Many people rely on a multivitamin to take care of any gaps in daily nutrition. You may even have a collection of individual supplements that you take every day. Have you ever wondered whether all those dollars you dish out on tablets and capsules are worth it?
Commercial supplements may not be very effective
Research has revealed that commercial multivitamins and supplements may be more of a marketing trick than a nutritional fix. Not only do they fail to interact effectively with the human body, they frequently don’t even contain the ingredients they are labeled with.
Nutrition researcher Chris Kresser explains that the nutrition industry’s fixation with isolating vitamins and minerals has oversimplified the issue. While it has certainly proven useful in the past—such as the discovery that a lack of vitamin C causes scurvy, or vitamin D deficiency results in rickets—not every health requirement is so simple.
Kresser points out three major issues with consuming synthetic or isolated nutrients:
- Whole foods are metabolized differently than isolated nutrients and they provide a buffer effect against over-consuming any particular substance.
- Certain sets of nutrients are synergistic or inter-dependent. For example, sodium and potassium, or vitamin D and vitamin A are some known combinations that naturally support health by appearing together in whole foods. Taking them separately in supplements means they may not be effective. Also, there are likely many other such combinations that science has not yet discovered and supplements don’t cater to.
- Some nutrients create very different reactions in the body in a natural form as compared to a manufactured form. An example is natural trans-fat from dairy, which is very healthy, versus fake hydrogenated fats manufactured by the food industry. One supplement-specific example is vitamin D2, the synthetic form of vitamin D, which actually blocks the receptors for natural vitamin D3 (the good kind) and can cause a deficiency!
In addition, a 2015 report by the New York Attorney General found that four out of five supplement products sold at major national retailers do not contain any of the substances claimed on the label. A 2007 study by the American Society for Clinical Nutrition also found that “actual vitamin and mineral amounts often deviate from label values.”
And when it actually does contain what it says, the body may not absorb it effectively. The 2007 study went on to say, “Vitamin and mineral bioavailability for dietary supplements also lacks a standard scientific and regulatory definition and validated in vitro and animal models that accurately reflect human bioavailabilities.”
This means that we have little knowledge of how well the body absorbs nutrients from supplements, and the production methods of supplements often do not take human body mechanisms into account. Another study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology found that much less iron was absorbed from prenatal vitamins than expected, and the amount absorbed varied widely.
Overall, the level of effectiveness of supplements is not very reassuring, which leads us to examine whole food sources for nutrients.
Food and plant sources for vitamins and minerals
Although studies of nutrition from whole foods are not so popular, since they don’t support any high-profit industry (as supplements do), those studies that have been done support the theory that nutrients are much better obtained from natural foods.
A 2009 study by the American Society of Nutrition supports this idea, stating, “The evidence for health benefit appears stronger when put together in a synergistic dietary pattern than for individual foods or food constituents. A review of dietary supplementation suggests that although supplements may be beneficial in states of insufficiency, the safe middle ground for consumption likely is food.”
Another study from the journal Food Chemistry examined plants grown in mineral-rich soil as a vehicle for dietary minerals. They found that minerals provided via whole plant tissues achieve “greater soluble concentrations,” meaning they are more usable to the body than those provided in popular mineral supplements.
Making your own herbal multivitamin
Natural-minded practitioners have come up with an amazing solution for getting all your vitamins and minerals from whole foods, but still in a convenient “supplement” form. You can make a simple herbal infusion at home using herbs that are readily available everywhere.
The good news is that plants that are considered weeds are often the most nutritious. They are hardy and resilient, so it’s not surprising they contain robust nutrition.
Try this simple herbal tincture recipe:
Ingredients & Equipment:
- A clean glass jar (at least pint size) with lid
- Colored dropper bottles or glass jars for storage
- Consumable alcohol like vodka or rum—at least 80 proof (other options are apple cider vinegar or food-grade vegetable glycerine)
- 3/4 cup alfalfa
- 1/2 cup red raspberry leaf
- 1/2 cup dandelion leaf
- Optionally add stevia or raw honey for taste
Instructions for an alcohol tincture:
Fill the jar 1/3 to 1/2 full with dried herbs. Filling half full will make a stronger tincture. Do not pack down.
Pour boiling water to just dampen all of the herbs. This helps to draw out the beneficial properties of the herbs.
Fill the rest of the jar with alcohol and stir with a clean spoon.
Put the lid on the jar. Store the jar in a cool/dry place, shaking daily, for 3–6 weeks.
Strain through a cheesecloth and compost the herbs.
Store the tincture in colored dropper bottles or clean glass jars.
NOTE: The alcohol can be evaporated before use (by using a teaspoon of tincture to make hot tea) or a tincture can be made in the same way using apple cider vinegar, though it will need to be stored in the fridge and will only last 3–6 months. The apple cider vinegar version is not as palatable.
Instructions for a glycerine tincture:
Steps 1 and 2 are the same as above. Fill the rest of the jar with glycerine and stir with a clean spoon. Put the lid on the jar. Place a washcloth or silicon baking mat (to keep jar from breaking) in the bottom of a Crock-Pot with a “keep warm” or very low setting. Fill up the Crock-Pot with water to cover 3/4 of the jar (don’t cover the lid!) and turn on the lowest setting.
Keep in slow-cooker/Crock-Pot for at least one day (up to three days) on this setting, adding water as needed.
Let cool, strain and use as a regular tincture.
Note: Make sure when buying glycerine that it is food grade and not made from corn, which is often GMO. Glycerine tinctures are not considered as strong as alcohol tinctures.
How to use the herbal multivitamin tincture:
Adults: 1 tsp to 1 tbsp per day, use twice a day if needed.
Kids: 1/2 to 1 tsp per day. These herbs are not toxic and should not present any health danger, but do your own research so you feel confident.
Try this real-food-based herbal tincture instead of synthetic commercial vitamins, and see how you feel! Sweeten your tincture with raw local honey for an extra health boost and to help reduce allergy symptoms.
-The Alternative Daily