This is part two of a three to perhaps four part series on vitamin supplementation. Click here to access Part One.
I'm going to go off track here and diverge a bit, because I'm left unsatisfied in all of these discussions of vitamin supplementation, as well as the fact that I note that a lot of the people encouraging supplementation are also part of the general "Paleo Diet" movement, loosely defined. I suppose that what gives me the most heartburn — more so than taking unnecessary supplements — is the sort of unthinking, uncritical submission to authority that's often packaged with it, as though taking supplements is some sort of prima facie good, with the only question being quality.
The first thing that ought to jump out at any Paleo adherent is that all of these studies are being performed on people eating Neolithic (post-agricultural) diets, not Paleolithic (pre-agricultural) diets and their close facsimiles (saturated / unsaturated fat ratios, presence of dairy, acidic / basic, and so on). How in the world can we possibly know that supplementation is beneficial when we're already getting 100-300% higher nutrition (I'll develop this specifically in Pt 3) already than the people these studies are based upon, and which seem to show no real benefit (and sometimes harm)?
The second thing is that — duh! — vitamin supplements aren't Paleo, which is shorthand for the recognition that Paleolithic people didn't use supplements of any kind — they got all they need from food. Moreover, archaeological evidence, as well as close, multi-year (even multi-decade) observations of modern hunter-gatherers, non-industrial peoples and pastoralists going back perhaps 150 years and more suggest that these peoples enjoyed good health, absent what we Paleo types refer to as "diseases of civilization."
Logically, this ought to be no surprise. Go observe any animal in the wild you care to observe, and provided that its environment is suitable to its needs — i.e., hasn't been ravaged by fire, flood, or other natural or man-made disturbance — they live in perfect, optimal, evolutionarily designed health, which is to say that they live up to the niche they occupy in the evolution of species. Every wild animal is 100% responsible and accountable for its own survival and they do a fantastic job of it.
We evolved to become the rational animal. It was an impressive jump, so impressive that we tend to regard primitives both past and present with some degree of disdain — as though somehow grossly inferior, savage, ignorant, and part of a reality which rules don't really apply to us. They do, and in terms of biology, they all do. And this is why hunter-gatherers are and have been measurably healthier and stronger — even taller — than us. Here's an analog for you: even domestic dogs that are as close to the wolf as you can get are no match in terms of health and fitness (dogs are direct genetic descendants of the wolf).
In reality, we have become just like our own pet dogs. Most of them would be completely ill-equipped to survive in the wild on their own and would surely perish in short order. I would venture to say that the same goes for most modern human beings. While division of labor is a marvelous thing ("even" hunter-gatherers understood this), I think that there's a point where "division of knowledge" becomes an enormous liability on an individual level. Tell you what: go take in a few episodes of Man vs. Wild, and estimate how you'd fare.
So, am I saying that you ought to go back to being a hunter-gatherer — to spend the requisite decades it would likely take to integrate all the passed-down wisdom of what keeps you alive, healthy and thriving, vs. what kills you? No, I'm saying that you ought to understand the distinction as plainly as possible, gain and develop as much knowledge as you can, and stop defaulting to the authority of others on all matters. We all learn from one-another, but we ought to do so in a context of criticism and questioning. And, in case you haven't noticed, that's not allowed by the Neolithic invention of the State and its collectivism (pushing out Paleolithic individualism); nor by State-protected-promoted "big business;" nor by the State's principal ideological bedfellows: big religion, big activism, big education, and big media.
One way or another, you're trained from the day you say your first word to pick your authorities and follow them blindly for the rest of your life. I say: STOP IT! This is the root Neolithic invention that has destroyed modern health for so many. In a sense, the wonderful development of human consciousness has been traded in for science, technology, and wealth. It's no trade. Without genuine consciousness, which necessarily implies personal authority, accountability, and responsibility (individualism), we're lost. A sense of conscience and ethics is foundational and prerequisite to a thriving humanity. Then, let's go conquer the world and on to the universe (in knowledge, technology, and wise control — to the benefit of our rational needs and desires).
And, now, here you are, with me preaching to the choir, because you're already here. Perhaps, for some of you, it's to have me tell you what to do or point you to someone who will. But ultimately, you're at a blog where criticism and questioning are encouraged, where you're admonished to take in other information, much of which equally welcomes criticism and questioning, and then to take responsibility, to continually expand and grow your knowledge, and to hopefully go out and cast a light in the darkness for others.
In part three I'll get back to the less philosophical specifics of why I think vitamin supplementation is likely unnecessary and potentially harmful, along with specific qualifications and why. I'll also tell you specifically what and when I personally supplement with, and why.