Are Vitamin Supplements of any Value?*

Some opponents of supplementation assert, “The only effect of taking vitamins is making your urine expensive.” The implication of this sarcastic claim is that vitamin supplements are totally useless. This claim is valid only if the amount of each nutrient excreted is exactly the same as or greater than that ingested. Proving this relationship requires extensive analysis of the urine of numerous subjects under highly controlled conditions of monitored nutrient intake, which seems not to have been done. Therefore, assertions that vitamin supplements are completely useless appear to be speculative rather than based on scientific evidence.

It is important to understand that vitamins excreted in the urine must first be assimilated (absorbed from the digestive tract into the bloodstream) before being concentrated in the kidneys. Excretion of vitamins is therefore evidence that they have been assimilated, which is a necessary condition for their utilization. For many people, a certain level of blood concentration must be established for optimal utilization. In fact, a fraction of any ingested nutrient is normally excreted, as evidenced by the odor and coloration of subsequent urine. Therefore, incomplete utilization of supplements is not a reason to consider them valueless.

An analogy can be made between taking vitamin supplements and breathing. It is the case that each exhalation contains a fraction of inhaled oxygen. Does the lack of 100% efficiency mean that one should not breathe?

We are repeatedly told that the American diet is so good that supplements are not needed. We have been also told to avoid even the slightest exposure to sunlight without sunblock protection and that a daily intake of Vitamin D over 400 i.u. could lead to serious problems. The result is a large number of people suffering from osteoporosis and osteopenia. Now M.D.s are starting to check blood levels of vitamin D and finding that many people’s levels are low, in which case calcium and vitamin D supplements are recommended, with the Vitamin D far in excess of 400 i.u. per day. It is too bad that the damage has already been done!

In fact, many people find taking supplements to be beneficial, and numerous studies report benefits such as lower incidence of heart disease and cancer, improved immune function, and reduced susceptibility to dying of an injury of any sort.

Our food lacks essential nutrients. We are then subjected to stresses such as medical and natural nuclear radiation, free radicals, pesticides, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, pollution of air and water, refined foods, haphazard combining of foods, eating beyond digestive limitations, insufficient sleep, excessive sexual activity, and sporadic extremes of exposure to sunlight. All of these and other factors substantially increase our requirements for vitamins and minerals. Gary Price Todd has written a valuable book clarifying the role of supplements.


*From Robert Chuckrow, The Intelligent Dieter’s Guide, Rising Mist Publications, Briarcliff Manor, NY, 1997.

©Copyright 1997 by Robert Chuckrow

Gary Price Todd, M. D., Nutrition, Health and Disease, Whitford Press, West Chester, PA, 1985.


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