To Your Health
I have decided to start taking a multivitamin/mineral of some sort, but I don't want to waste money taking more than I need. How would I know if I am getting enough, but not too much, of a nutrient?
A. Unfortunately, at present time there is no way to be sure exactly (or even approximately) how much any individual needs of most nutrients. There are tests that can provide a little information, but these tests are far from definitive and can get rather expensive, which defeats the purpose of not wasting money. The solution to this dilemma may be philosophical as much as scientific.
There seem to be two major opinions regarding food supplements. One camp says we can obtain a sufficient amount of all the nutrients we need to remain healthy from our food, assuming we choose wisely. These folks tend to believe that the government estimate (the Recommended Daily Allowance) for each nutrient is accurate. Another camp believes the American diet, if not all humankind's diet, will never fully satisfy the nutrient requirements for any individual, and, in addition, the RDA is ludicrously low. These folks believe that for most nutrients if a little is good, more is better. As is often the case, the truth lies in between the extremes.
Dr. Roger J. Williams spent a good portion of his professional life promoting a concept he called "biochemical individuality." Dr. Williams noted that we are each born with unique genetics that may or may not match our environment. Most often we have a good match, otherwise our parents (who gave us our genes) would not have lived long enough to reproduce. When genes and environment do not match, some degree of infirmity will likely result.
It appears that most of us have inherited about average requirements for nearly all nutrients, requirements that can often be met by a "good diet." Most of us also inherit a "high requirement" for one or more nutrients, high enough that a "good diet" is still not quite good enough for fully adequate body functioning.
About 50 human diseases are known to be due to gross discrepancy between genes and environment, and these can be remedied by the administration of extremely high doses of a vitamin or mineral, in the range of 100 to 1,000 times the RDA. There is general agreement regarding such "vitamin dependency diseases" but not about the inference that there are people who have milder forms of these vitamin dependency diseases, with nutrient requirements only 5-10 times the RDA. Unless these people can in some way raise their nutrient intake to meet their higher requirements, either by nutrient supplements or by extreme dietary changes, they will not thrive. The problem is we don't know which nutrients we need in very high amounts.
Fortunately, the safety factor for most nutrients provides a solution. Even when not needed, 10 times the needed amounts of most vitamins and three times the needed amounts of most minerals are safe. This means we can supplement most nutrients in amounts that will provide enough for even the extraordinarily high requirements, even if everyone does not need these amounts. About 30 years ago, Dr. Williams developed such a supplement and published the formula in his book Wonderful World Within You.
Some day we will be able to really know what we each need in the way of nutrients but in the meantime we have an "insurance" vitamin and mineral formula that costs only pennies per day and will give almost all of us sufficient amounts of the nutrients we need.