Vitamins 101: Which Ones to Take and What to Avoid

Natasha Turner, N.D. is a Toronto-based naturopathic doctor. She is the founder of the Clear Medicine wellness boutique and author of the bestselling book The Hormone Diet. Here Dr. Turner advises readers on how to remedy common health issues as well as improve their overall health.

Wondering if you should be taking daily vitamins? These days, there is overwhelming clinical evidence to show that vitamin deficiencies are associated with disease processes and the overall condition of our health. Vitamin, mineral, antioxidant and other essential micronutrient deficiencies suppress the function of the immune system and contribute to degenerative processes like arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, accelerated aging or diabetes. With statistics showing 65 percent of Canadians take vitamins daily, word that supplements are health-promoting is definitely is getting out.

Determining Your Nutrient Status
There is often a big difference between the dose of a product you are taking, the amount present in your blood stream and most importantly, the level ultimately present within your cells. The nutrients within your cells are those involved with metabolism, healthy immunity, reproduction, detoxification, cellular regeneration and growth as well as many other body processes.
There is an advanced form of blood testing available from a company called Spectracell Labs. This blood test measures the status of minerals, vitamins, certain amino acids like glutamine and antioxidants like Co-enzyme Q10 within the white blood cells. It’s called intracellular vitamin analysis and I believe it is the most accurate way to assess nutrient status.

With the help of this test, I have discovered many people who take supplements on a somewhat regular basis have low amounts of key nutrients — myself included! My test results showed I was deficient in vitamin D, biotin (a common cause of hair loss), zinc and antioxidants. As a result I added a product or two to my daily vitamin regime, as well as a digestive enzyme to ensure maximum absorption of my minerals and vitamins.

Here is a simple vitamin plan that I recommend for everyone:

  • A high-quality multivitamin.
  • Pharmaceutical grade, ultra-pure fish oil capsules.
  • A mixed vitamin E (mixed vitamin E contains all eight types of vitamin E, whereas most just contain alpha tocopherol).
  • A calcium-magnesium supplement in a citrate base with vitamin D3 (the citrate form is most absorbable.)
  • Vitamin C with bioflavonoids (bioflavonoids increase the activity of vitamin C in the body)
  • Acidophilus pills to restore healthy gut balance, immunity, wellness, aid digestion and overall health.
  • Vitamin D3 for immunity, cancer prevention, bone health and much more.

Keep in mind there are many factors that determine a vitamin/supplement’s quality and absorption. In general, here are the things that you should consider when selecting a product:

  • Multivitamins and all other supplement products free of binders, fillers, artificial colorings, preservatives, yeast, sugar, starch or other additives are the best choices.
  • Capsules are often more absorbable than tablets. If tablets are, however, made by a reputable company they can be just as absorbable as capsules; and in some cases can even be superior. Normally tablets that are superior are “cold pressed.” Some companies make their tablets in such a way so that they dissolve at certain temperatures, rather than acidity, to ensure maximum absorption. I tend to recommend against timed-released pills because they can be difficult for some of us to break down, particularly if you have low levels of stomach acid (click here for instructions on how to do an HCL challenge). Powders or liquids often provide a great alternative, especially for kids, since they can easily be added to smoothies or juice.
  • Higher quality multivitamins often have their vitamins and minerals in highly absorbable forms, like amino acid chelates, glycinates and citrates, rather than sulfates, carbonates or oxides. When purchasing calcium or magnesium, check labels for “calcium citrate,” or “magnesium citrate” or “magnesium glycinate” and avoid those products with “magnesium oxide” or “calcium carbonate.” Although these forms are more expensive, they can provide three to 10 times better assimilation. And while on the topic of calcium, I might add that it also best to take your last dose (approx 250 to 500mg) of calcium before bedtime to assist bone health and sleeping.
  • Natural forms of vitamins are always better than synthetic forms. In fact, synthetic vitamins have been found to cause health problems rather than prevent them. There are also fewer toxic reactions or potential intestinal upsets with natural forms. Look for the word “natural” on the label. It is not always easy to tell if a product is natural but you can tell a lot by looking at the vitamin E. If it is listed as dl-alpha tocopherol it is the harmful, synthetic form. If listed as d-alpha tocopherol, it’s natural and good for you.
  • Particular vitamin forms are superior to others. For instance, vitamin B12 as methylcobalamin; selenium in the form of selenomethionine or organic selenium; vitamin D as vitamin D3 (rather than vitamin D2) are most bioavailable and beneficial. Multivitamins created in the base of a green food base are also tops. I selected the highest rated multivitamin in The Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements as the foundation of the daily clear essentials morning and evening packs simply because it provides all of these criteria.

The vitamin section of the grocery or health food store can be daunting. Sometimes your money is more wisely spent on a consultation with a professional like a naturopathic doctor. It just might help you to avoid wasting time and money using the wrong products, in the wrong amounts and, most likely, for the wrong reasons.