What was I looking for again? How do you spell "Astaxanthin"? Who designed this vitamin aisle?
These are all the thoughts that swam in my brain four and a half years ago as I stood in my local grocery store, along with all different pieces of advice from friends, family, doctors, TV doctors, and the internet.
Dr. Oz said to take krill. But wait, the guy at Whole Foods said that sardines were more eco-friendly. Didn’t my doctor tell me to eat fish? I think my friend’s husband just got mercury poisoning from too much fish....
It actually started to make me angry.
Isn’t life hard enough? Now I'm stressed by the things that are supposed to help my body deal with stress! What’s a girl got to do to get the nutrients she wants while maintaining her sanity, start her own vitamin company?
For my cofounders and for me, the answer turned out to be: Yep, sure do.
So, the world needs another vitamin company like it needs another oil spill, right? In my effort to figure out how to solve a real problem (not add to it), I started reading. A lot. And very quickly, I found myself drowning in conflicting information, and overwhelmed with advice.
The more I learned, the more frustrated I became about the amount of misinformation about vitamins. It’s hard for me to sort out and it’s my job!
After a recent spate of articles, some blatantly misrepresenting study results, others dispensing advice that I knew to be plain wrong, I decided it was worth offering a guide to deciphering all the advice that comes your way:
1. Advice from friends. Friends are awesome. I have amazing ones. Friends share one flaw—they, like you, tend to be most enamored by what they last heard. So, unless your friend is a nutritionist with some experience, get a second source.
2. Advice from magazines/newspapers/the internet. Though their intentions are good, journalists face short attention spans. They must compress complex studies, and thereby regularly misrepresent the results of all those studies. (Multivitamins kill you! Vitamin D cures cancer!) In the service of fitting a 50-page study into a paragraph, a corollary issue (women who have poor eating habits also take a vitamin and died earlier than other women) is turned into a causal relationship (these women died earlier BECAUSE they took vitamins). If you care about the headline, wait a bit, then Google the term and see if a response has been posted by people who actually study nutrition and preventative health. Sadly, the rebuttals written by leaders in the health field don’t get the same coverage by the press, so the misinformation remains.
3. Advice from family. See "Advice from Friends," above.
4. Advice from experts. And this is the most important one of all: Did you know that physicians receive on average only 23 hours of training in nutrition in medical school? When one of these doctors tells you that Vitamin D is not needed by anyone other than babies and adults over 65 as everyone else gets their needed amounts through food or sunlight, you should be suspicious. This is simply not true as studies from Harvard, the NIH, the AMA and countless others can demonstrate. Whenever you see a recommendation, look for consensus.
5. Common sense. When trying to think about vitamins, focus on what you hear about over and over again, for longer than 12 months and from lots of sources (vitamin D, omega 3, fiber, maybe a multi). Don’t live on the fringes. Supplements are tools like everything else. Ask (in person or online) a nutritionist or a physician with a well-established reputation in preventative health. We love our own chief medical advisor, Dr. David Katz, founder of the Yale University’s Prevention Research Center or Dr. Mark Hyman.
I was and am you, somebody who wants to stay healthy and keep my family healthy, too.
Here's what I concluded: Don’t expect supplements to solve all your problems, but don’t ignore the obvious. If you can do one thing for your health: get a blood test, find out what your levels are, and supplement accordingly. Think about ditching the processed and fortified foods—that way you get the good without the bad.
Spend less time in the vitamin aisle and more time laughing (hopefully, outside)!