To supplement or not to supplement, that is the question
Get someone to bring up the topic of nutritional supplements around the Christmas dinner table, and you’ll cause a commotion. There will be someone who pops a handful of pills each morning for every diner who believes turkey, Brussels sprouts, and fruit cake are all we need.
Who is correct?
Tanis Fenton, PhD, RD, FDC, is an adjunct professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine as well as the nutrition research lead for Alberta Health Services.
Her response was succinct: nutrient supplements are ineffective for improving health or delaying aging. In reality, well-designed trials evaluating the health benefits of vitamin supplementation (e.g., vitamin E, beta-carotene, B vitamins) have revealed no improvement in health, and in some cases, those taking the supplements had poorer health results (e.g. vitamin E, beta-carotene).
Despite this, a large number of individuals use nutritional supplements.
According to a poll of 3,500 individuals aged 60 and older conducted by Harvard Men’s Health Watch, 70% of those surveyed take a daily supplement (either a multivitamin or an individual vitamin or mineral), 54% take one or two supplements, and 29% take four or more.
B-complex vitamins may lessen the risk of stroke
The Harvard researchers point out that folic acid and B-complex vitamins may lessen the risk of stroke, as well as the fact that men who took a daily multivitamin for 11 years had an 8% reduced risk of cancer and a 9% lower risk of cataracts compared to a placebo group. They do, however, reference a paper published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in 2018 by David Jenkins of the University of Toronto. These researchers examined the most widely used supplements, including multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin C, and found that they did not protect against cardiovascular disease.
Customizing vitamins for HIV patients
The nutritional supplement business, excellently embodied by Traj Nibber, founder and CEO of Advanced Orthomolecular Research, is on the opposing side of this epic dispute. He moved to Canada from the United Kingdom in 1989, trained as a pharmacist and having a PhD in pathology, and opened a drugstore in Smiths Falls, Ont. Drug stores back then offered everything from Kleenex to cigarettes, but vitamins didn’t get much shelf space. Nibber began customizing vitamins for HIV patients and even giving them away for free. He created Advanced Orthomolecular Research (AOR) in 1991, using Linus Pauling’s philosophy of having the appropriate molecule in the right place at the right time because ortho is the Greek word for “correct.”
The best method to make a capsule
This includes pioneering new supplement research, precise component procurement, and careful attention to delivery in the body for Nibber. I observed processing units that would make a pharmaceutical firm proud on a tour of their enormous Calgary headquarters. I also observed technicians figuring out the best method to make a capsule that dissolves in the body exactly the way it should.
Personalizing vitamins based on a DNA test
Their most recent invention, and the reason I came to see them, is an attempt to personalize vitamins based on a DNA test. I’m passionate about the future of customized medicine, therefore I agreed to donate a sample of my saliva (labelled with a fake name for privacy of course). AOR gave me a free copy of their MyBlueprint exam, however it costs $300 on their website (aor.ca).
The results were incredible!
“84 SNPs, 65 genes, 41 Clinical end points, and 8 important health categories” are analyzed in the test. The report (mine was 51 pages) interprets your results in plain English, which is a significant advantage of the AOR product over other DNA testing. This has a direct link to men’s health, as Vitamin D is critical for the synthesis of testosterone, according to Dr. Paul Hrkal, a naturopathic doctor located in Mississauga. There are relatively few natural health treatments that boost the body’s own testosterone production, he says. Vitamin D and zinc are two of the supplements with the most scientific backing. Unless you eat a lot of cod liver oil, he says, these nutrients are difficult to come by in the normal Canadian diet.
Better to simply pass the cranberry sauce!
Everyone believes that you should seek medical counsel before using nutritional supplements, and that there are evident examples of deficiency, such as the famous sailors who had scurvy due to a lack of Vitamin C, for which citrus fruits were the simple cure. You could bring your DNA test to Christmas dinner to use as ammo in this continuing argument, but it’s probably better to simply pass the cranberry sauce.