Along with the many people I encounter in my medical practice and my lectures, you may wonder, "Why do I need to take supplements?" Many people think, and some conservative nutritionists would agree with them, that eating a balanced diet provides all the vitamins they need. This is simply not so. Everyone's idea of a balanced diet, even among experts, is different, and it may vary greatly from the scientifically based recommendations of a contemporary nutritionist or nutritionally oriented physician. In order to answer the question, we need to explore a number of different but equally important personal and ecological considerations: genetics, environment, agriculture, stress and health history, and of course, your desire for a vigorous and lively health future.
The Important Role of Genetics
Throughout all species there is wide variation in genetic makeup. This variation includes differing abilities to survive in a given nutritional environment. In other words, to survive well, one animal may require much more or less of particular nutrients than another animal. Dr. Roger Williams has shown in experiments with rats that after five generations of inbreeding, litter mates, which are very close genetically, can vary in nutrient needs up to 40 times for particular nutrients. In other words, one may need 2.5 mg of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) and another may need 100 mg for the same level of vitality, physical endurance and life span. There is an even greater variation in human beings, as we have a greater genetic diversity than other species.
In the natural course of events, species develop (or evolve) when those animals with greater nutritional needs fail to survive or to reproduce as well as those with lesser needs. Except in a few known genetic disorders, we cannot determine subtle variations in nutritional needs for human beings. It is therefore wise to make sure that our internal environment (including all cells, tissues and organs) is abundantly supplied with all the nutrients. Biochemical individuality is Dr Williams' term for the basic principle of varied individual needs.
In tissue cultures (cells growing in laboratories) the culture medium is made quite rich in all the required nutrients. If the cells were only given minimum requirements, some cells would not thrive and researchers would risk losing the cell line. In human beings the blood plasma provides nourishment for the cells, and needs a constant and abundant supply of all the nutrients. This requires both a healthy diet and supplements.
Supplements enhance a healthy diet; they are not a substitute for it. Some antagonists to the use of dietary supplements have said that people will get a false sense of security if they use supplements, and as a result they will not seek out the healthiest foods. It is my experience, on the contrary, that the people who elect to use supplements are usually the ones who also eat a healthier diet. These antagonists are usually the same people who defend the highly processed, westernized, or "industrial" diet that is a prime cause of degenerative disease and chronic health problems.
Our Risky Environment
Another reason you will benefit from dietary supplements is the poor quality of the environment in which we live. Whether it is toxins in food, water, and air or other exposures such as mercury in dental fillings or aluminum in cookware and antiperspirants, our bodies have an excessive burden to overcome. This environmental burden taxes our detoxification capacity and may lead to many health problems.