February 18, 2014

Vitamins: Don’t Take Them for Granted

Here at The CECON Group, our experts and consultants are constantly updating their skills and expertise. This means that they keep their eye on the news in their fields to learn of the latest developments.  One of our Project Managers, Chemistry Expert Boyd Sorenson, commented on the recent controversy concerning vitamin supplements. 

Are vitamin supplements necessary?

We don’t think much about vitamins, except that they are important for our health and we should take them.  But what are vitamins, why do we need them, and are vitamin supplements necessary?

Vitamins are small organic molecules that are essential for all life, animals, plants, fungi and even bacteria.  Vitamins look like small molecule drugs, pharmaceuticals, with chemical structures shown here. Vitamins in fact serve like drugs as biochemical regulators, promoters or antagonists in living organisms.  They are particularly important in relation to protein systems and functions in an organism.

What is interesting about vitamins is that they are essential for living processes, but only a small amount of each chemical is necessary to keep an organism healthy.  For example, in humans, just a small amount of vitamin C will prevent scurvy and, likewise, a small amount of vitamin D will prevent rickets.  But if vitamin C or D is not in a human’s diet, these diseases can appear and can be devastating.

The human organism requires about 20 vitamins to survive.  Interestingly, of these 20 vitamins, the body only manufactures vitamins D and K.  All the other vitamins must come from the diet, like vitamin B1 (thiamine) from meat or vitamin C from fruit and vegetables. The New York Times published a recent science article about vitamins discussing their evolutional history as related to living organisms. One theme of the story was that early life forms could make their own vitamins but, over time and evolutionary cycles, many organisms lost the capability to make these essential vitamins.  This is because the vitamins became so plentiful in the diet and food sources that genes specific to the manufacture of vitamins in the organism’s DNA mutated and became inoperative, and not needed.

The article discussed the pioneering work of Dr. Harold White of the University of Delaware, defining the role of vitamins in living systems and their critical roles in RNA functions and protein synthesis.  Dr. White’s early theories have recently been validated by more scientific studies.

The Value of Vitamins Questioned

A recent editorial in Annals of Internal Medicine has the headline “Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.”  The editorial reviews many recent studies of multivitamin supplements trials with collectively more than 400,000 participants.  The conclusion is that there is no “clear evidence of a beneficial effect of supplement (vitamins) on all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, or cancer.”  The article concludes that the average diet in the United States is generally adequate to provide the small amounts of vitamins actually needed, and that U.S. supplement consumption of nearly $28 billion in annual sales (2010) is not supported by scientific study and fact.  In fact, in some cases such as vitamin E and beta carotene, high dosage levels can be harmful to humans.

So, even though the value of supplements is being questioned for those with well-balanced diets, it is important to realize how vital vitamins are to health, whether they come from food or a supplement. It is equally important to pay attention to the amount of each vitamin being consumed, via supplements or through food.

  
Since 1985, The CECON Group has been placing experts in over 200 scientific disciplines. CECON Consultants include pharmaceutical consultants, clinical trials experts, and chemistry experts.



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