By Harrison Miller ‘17, Kayla Kroning ‘17
You wake up to your dad’s hand gently pressed on your shoulder. “Rise and shine; it’s time for school!” he says. Time for your morning routine: get dressed, brush your teeth, wash your face, eat breakfast, and – what was that last thing? Your foggy mind cannot remember. You hop out of bed and begin your tasks. Once you are sufficiently washed and dressed, you head downstairs to a bowl of Captain Crunch awaiting you. You dig in, savoring the little, golden squares, until something on the corner of your napkin catches your eye. Your vision narrows onto two orange Fred and Wilma Flinstones. Nausea builds in your stomach as you realize you have to ingest these chalk-like pellets. You look down at Fred and Wilma. They appear unaware of the pain they are about to cause you in the name of healthy living. After finishing your cereal, you sigh and grab the Flinstones, throwing the vitamins into your mouth before slowly biting down. “I hate t
hese things,” you say through clenched teeth.
I know I am not alone in this story. Countless of us have had this experience during our childhood mornings: the dreadful eating of vitamins. The question is: Why was this experience necessary? My parents told me it was so I would grow up healthy and strong, but did my Flintstone vitamins really help in this task? Let’s delve into what some scientists say about vitamin supplementation, and figure out the true benefit or, in some cases, detriment of supplementation.
Our bodies, as complex and amazing as they are, work hard to keep us functioning on a daily basis. The energy needed for you to walk from Fulton to Jenks or spike a birdy during your Badminton class is given by the foods you consume on a daily basis. In fact, even the act of sitting in the Stacks requires sufficient energy. This energy is obtained through proper nutrition. Specifically, vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K, are essential to fuel your day-to-day routine.
Vitamin A is necessary for healthy eyes, skin, and teeth. Vitamin B is essential for your immune system and iron absorption. Vitamin C gives elasticity to your skin, strengthens your blood vessels and offers anti-oxidants. Vitamin D is for strong bones! In other words, it aids in depositing calcium to your bones. Vitamin E helps with blood circulation and prevents free radicals, which are atoms with unpaired electrons that can damage your DNA. Finally, vitamin K is important for blood coagulation, which is how your blood clots, so you don’t continue to bleed, when you have a cut.
All of these functions are SUPER important. So you can see how, if you obtained an insufficient amount of vitamins, you could have some significant problems scoring that badminton ace. In order to obtain sufficient vitamins, you must consume a variety of fruits, vegetables and complete proteins on a daily basis.
This is the part where you yell, “Oh no! I am a poor college student with limited access to expensive foods like fruits and vegetables and would rather be riddled with free radicals than eat a piece of broccoli from Lane!” Fret not fellow college student, this is where supplementation comes to save the day! In addition to the nutrients you receive on a daily basis, like the calcium from your mocha latte made by Bistro Mike, vitamin supplementation, such as a vitamin D tablet, is available to help you receive an adequate amount of vitamins.
You may be thinking, “Where is the debate? Supplementation sounds awesome and super convenient!” Well, have you ever thought about how your body responds to the vitamin in a synthetically-made tablet in comparison to the one found in a carrot or apple?
Back in 2015, a group of scientists published a study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition about the effectiveness of vitamin D obtained from supplementation in comparison to more natural sources, like diet and exposure to sunlight. This study was used to test the supplements’ ability to reduce vitamin D deficiency. They found that vitamin D supplementation gave the most positive results in reducing this deficiency.
A study from the National Cancer Institute in Maryland tells a different story. The scientists studied iron supplements and saw that, although the supplements significantly lower the risk of esophageal cancer, they significantly increase one’s risk of stomach cancer. They also studied calcium supplementation and saw a correlation between it and a higher risk of, once again, esophageal cancer.
These two studies are two extremes of the supplement debate. Most studies found that supplements, although not as effective as vitamins obtained from a proper nutrition, do have positive effects on the body. Ultimately, proper diet and nutrition comes FIRST. Get your calcium from milk, yogurt or dark, leafy greens before you take a tablet. If natural sources of calcium are not available, supplementation is a much better option than going without an essential vitamin.
Supplement according to your own discretion. If you know there is no way you can receive your daily value of vitamin E, do your research and find a credible vitamin E supplement to stop those radicals! Supplements are not inherently bad or inherently good. They are useful in some circumstances and harmful in others. It is up to you to determine what is best for you and your body.