Dr. Mark Hyman: Why You Need to Take Supplements


“Can I get all the nutrients I need from food?” a patient will occasionally ask. On the surface, this makes sense. After all, if you are eating a whole, fresh, unprocessed foods diet, shouldn’t you be able to get an abundant supply of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients?

Even with the perfect diet, the evidence shows we cannot get away from the need for nutritional supplements.

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Unfortunately, things aren’t that easy. Even with a perfect diet, the combination of many things—including our depleted soils, the storage and transportation of our food, genetic alterations of traditional heirloom species, and the increased stress and nutritional demands resulting from a toxic environment—make it impossible for us to get the vitamins and minerals we need solely from the foods we eat.

Simply put, the evidence shows we cannot get away from the need for nutritional supplements.

Doctors used to think you got all your vitamins and minerals from food. Any extra nutrients were excreted, or worse, became toxic. But the tide is shifting. Doctors now prescribe over $1 billion in fish oil supplements. Most cardiologists recommend folate, fish oil and coenzyme Q10. Gastroenterologists recommend probiotics. Obstetricians have always recommended prenatal vitamins.

Emerging scientific evidence shows the importance of nutrients as essential helpers in our biochemistry and metabolism. They are the oil that greases the wheels of our metabolism. And large-scale deficiencies of nutrients in our population—including omega-3 fats, vitamin D, folate, zinc, magnesium and iron—have been well documented in extensive government-sponsored research.

Four main reasons we are nutrient depleted

There are numerous reasons most of us are nutrient malnourished, anything from eroding topsoil depleting our mineral supply, to a toxic environment and the abundance of junk food many Americans eat. If I had to narrow nutrient depletion down to four primary reasons, this is what I would say:

1. We evolved eating wild foods that contained dramatically higher levels of all vitamins, minerals, and essential fats.

2. Because of depleted soils, industrial farming and hybridization techniques, the animals and vegetables we eat have fewer nutrients.

3. Processed factory-made foods have no nutrients.

4. The total burden of environmental toxins, lack of sunlight and chronic stress lead to higher nutrient needs.

These are among the reasons why everyone, at the very least, needs a good multivitamin, fish oil and vitamin D. I also recommend probiotics because modern life, diet and antibiotics, as well as other drugs, damage our gut ecosystem, which is so important in keeping us healthy and thin.

Nutrient deficiencies and “diabesity”

Paradoxical though it might seem, obesity and malnutrition often go hand in hand. Processed, high-sugar, high-calorie foods contain almost no nutrients, yet require even more vitamins and minerals to metabolize them. It’s a double whammy.

Obesity and diabetes both stem from malnutrition. Experts have described diabetes as starvation in the midst of plenty. The sugar can’t get into the cells. Your metabolism is sluggish, and the cells don’t communicate as a finely tuned team.

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