Are Multivitamins a Waste of Money?
So let’s get this out of the way…Unlike most natural practitioners (and against my financial advisors recommendation :-) ), I usually don’t recommend/sell a multi-vitamin for most of my patients early on in the process of treating digestion problem.
Why is that? The first reason is that in most cases of digestion problems, it isn’t whether or not you are getting enough vitamins, but rather what is causing damage to your intestinal tract that is then creating micronutrient deficiencies. Most people that eat a paleo-type, whole foods and nutrient rich diet, don’t actually need multivitamins all the time. But maybe even the real problem with multivitamins is that it gives the patient the false belief that they are getting all of the nutrition they need, when really they may need more of a specific nutrient for a short period of time.
A multi-vitamin provides the exact same nutrients in exact same ratios, every day. Ratios and variety are very important, but I’ll cover that in another article. For now, think of it as eating the same exact foods in the same exact ratios every day of your life. Eventually you will have an imbalance. Variety is important for the body.
Many people think of a multi-vitamin as an insurance policy. They absolutely do not work this way. The best analogy I have heard about multivitamins is that they can act more like nails in wood. The nails hold the house together, but without quality wood, the nails are pointless. If you have warped wood (aka a poor diet) then it doesn’t matter how many nails (aka multivitamins) you put into the wood, it can’t and won’t build a stable and reliable house. (aka healthy body)
That all being said, every day in my office I witness how specific nutrient deficiencies contribute to much of our pain and suffering today. These nutrients act as building blocks that are required for your body to heal. Without these building blocks, I see many people in my office that suffer for a long time. While a well-balanced vegetable base paleo-type diet should provide all of the nutrients that we need, long standing health problems like chronic digestive issues and even simply having chronic pain, will lead to specific nutrient deficiencies over time.
What are some common mineral& micronutrient deficiencies?
Magnesium deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the USA. Magnesium is required for over 300 different processes in the body including energy production, heart health, bone growth and testosterone. It is estimated that 70-80 percent of Americans are magnesium deficient.
To take it one step further, diet can actually create magnesium deficiency. Diets high in refined sugar use magnesium to balance out blood sugar. Dietary alcohol also decreases blood levels of magnesium. Even more common is high levels of stress deplete magnesium.
Some other root level causes of magnesium deficiency include:
- Digestive disturbances like Crohn’s, leaky gut, IBS, IBD and dysbiosis impair the body’s ability to absorb dietary magnesium.
- Subclinical kidney dysfunction which can allow too much magnesium to pass into the urine. You don’t have to have kidney disease to have one or both kidneys not functioning optimally.
Stress. Magnesium can act like a stress buffer and can naturally calm the nervous system (it acts like a beta-blocker). It not only helps us relax, it helps our muscles relax.
We often use magnesium citrate in order to increase bowel movements per day while we dig deeper into the root cause of why someone is magnesium deficient or why they are constipated.
Magnesium Food Sources: Seaweed, Pumpkin Seeds, Cocoa powder, Basil, Flaxseed and Almond Butter
Next to magnesium deficiency, zinc deficiency is the next most common micronutrient deficiency I see clinically. The absolute #1 reason I see a zinc deficiency has to do with low stomach acid caused by dysbiosis. Zinc also is important in the creation of testosterone, so it should be checked in males especially.
Zinc is also important to maximize your DNA and RNA potential. There are close to 50 genetic diseases that can be remedied by having adequate zinc. Zinc is also required to produce hydrochloric acid in the stomach which in turn breaks down your food and improves other nutrient absorption.
A Note on Low Stomach Acid
Low stomach acid can either cause intestinal dysbiosis or be a result of intestinal dysbiosis. If you have unbalanced gut flora in your digestive tract it leads to inflammation of the stomach and a decrease in hydrochloric acid production. On the flip side, low stomach acid can allow unwanted microbes to pass through the stomach without being properly killed and can lead to intestinal dysbiosis.
Stomach acid is required for the breakdown of protein. If protein isn’t broken down properly much of the food we ingest cannot be used for fuel for cells and energy. Essentially if you have low stomach acid, you can literally be eating food while your body is starving for nutrition. (Recently we have had to modify our protein rules in order to address this huge problem.)
Proper stomach acid is required for weight loss because if you don’t have proper protein absorption you will always be hungry for more protein/food. If you purposefully take an antacid like Pepcid, Nexium, Prilosec or other medication to decrease your symptoms of GERD, you are essentially starving yourself of the nutrients it needs for life.
Zinc Food Sources: Oysters, Beef
Selenium is a critical nutrient as it is a requirement for the proper production of glutathione. Glutathione is the body’s ultimate antioxidant and supports proper detoxification in the Liver. Selenium is also important in thyroid hormone production. I often talk about the lack of conversion of inactive T4 into active T3 and one of the reasons that can happen is if the body is deficient in selenium.
Selenium deficiency in my practice is most commonly caused by an excessive need for glutathione. Glutathione demand increases in patients with exposure to xenobiotics aka environmental toxins, excessive inflammation and stealth infections that cause hydrogen peroxide (inflammation) to increase. Hydrogen peroxide acts like a fire in the body and glutathione is required to put out the fire. If you are constantly using your selenium to put out fires it can become low quickly.
Selenium Food Sources: Brazil Nuts, Oysters, Tuna
Micronutrients for digestion should be addressed after root causes of gut dysbiosis and other malabsorption issues are treated. This usually means addressing gut health, balancing hormones and optimizing the immune system in order to allow the body to properly absorb a multivitamin or any food that you eat.