In previous articles I discussed 2 of the most common, but worst supplements you could be taking for your health. These supplements included Iron and Calcium.

Certainly these 2 nutrients are important for our health… but when it comes to supplementing with iron and calcium, it can be detrimental to your health.

For example, iron is a pro-oxidant, which causes oxidative stress and when present in large amounts can literally lead to organs and tissue damage. Calcium is associated with a 139% increased risk of heart attack and a 20% higher risk of stroke.

In this article, I’d like to finish up my series of the “Most Common Worst Supplements” you may be taking by discussing Vitamin E, Vitamin A (Beta Carotene) and Folic Acid.

Vitamin E (Alpha-Tocopherol)

Let’s talk about vitamin E. Vitamin E is a potent fat-soluble anti-inflammatory vitamin that protects us from free radicals and tissue damage. It’s also involved in immune function, cell signaling, regulation of gene expression, and other metabolic processes.

There are three different types of vitamin E, or isomers. There are phenols, tocopherols, and tocotrienols. Alpha-tocopherol is the form that most supplements contain. While vitamin E is an important nutrient to get in the diet, I definitely don’t recommend supplementing with it, with the possible exception of tocotrienols.

Now, before we proceed it’s important to have some understanding of the difference between synthetic vitamins and whole food or natural isomers of vitamins.

When checking vitamin labels, natural vitamin E is usually listed as the “d” form followed by “alpha-tocopherol”.  On the other hand, synthetic vitamin E will be listed as “d” followed by an “l” or dl-alpha-tocopherol”.

This is important when it comes to understanding research outcomes.

At best, dl-alpha-tocopherol (synthetic vitamin E) shows no benefit, but in several studies, it actually shows harm. For example, in a meta-analysis in JAMA with 230,000 total participants, vitamin E supplementation caused increased risk of death from all causes. Another review of 78 randomized controlled trials with almost 300,000 total participants found that vitamin E supplementation increased mortality by a small but significant margin.

So, again, you want to aim for whole-food sources of vitamin E only.

These include nuts and seeds primarily but also tomato sauce, cranberry juice, some fruits such as apricots and avocado, and fish such as trout.

The RDA is 15 mg a day. Most Americans get their intake from polyunsaturated vegetable oils. That is perhaps one of the only benefits of these industrial seed oils.

Paleo sources for people who are avoiding those oils or minimizing them, again include nuts and seeds, some greens, and some fish such as trout. It’s important, by the way, to eat foods that contain vitamin E, and any fat-soluble vitamin, for that matter, such as D, K2, and A, with fat because they are fat soluble.

Fat will be necessary to absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin E, and studies have consistently shown that when fat is consumed, the absorption of these vitamins is much greater.

Vitamin A (Beta Carotene)

Okay. Now let’s talk about vitamin A or beta-carotene. Beta-carotene gives plants an orange or yellow color, and this is a precursor for active vitamin A, retinol. Beta-carotene can also be converted into potentially harmful substances, and it can increase the risk of oxidative stress similar to Iron. Studies show that beta-carotene supplementation may increase the risk of heart disease and cancer in people who drink heavily or smoke.

High levels of betacarotene may have anti-vitamin A properties. This means it actually works against active vitamin A by disrupting the metabolism and action of active vitamin A.

Of course, the best option for getting beta-carotene is from food! And this is easy to do on a Paleo-type diet. Foods that are rich in beta-carotene include carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cantaloupe, winter squash, bell peppers, spinach, lettuce, pumpkin, and kale.

However, if you are going to supplement… then make sure your Vitamin A’s label reads Betatene or Mixed carotenoid complexes. A complex of beta-carotene will include beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and other carotendoids.

Folic Acid (Methyl Tetra Hydrofolic Acid)

Finally, let’s have a talk regarding Folic acid.

Folic acid is an oxidized synthetic compound that is only found in dietary supplements and fortified foods.

It’s now well understood that synthetic folic acid compounds are not metabolized by the body and can actually accelerate the progression of certain cancers. WOW… many physicians regularly recommend this to their patients.

Folic acid is not a natural form of folate found in nature. It was introduced into the food supply to reduce the risk of neural tube defects during a malnourished pregnancy, which it definitely does.

Folic acid can be converted into natural folate, but unfortunately, that conversion is limited in humans.

It undergoes initial reduction and methylation in the liver using dihydrofolate reductase as an enzyme, and if the patient has low activity of this enzyme, she can end up with high levels of unmetabolized folic acid in her system and circulation. A new study was released that found that nearly all babies, children, adolescents, and adults in the U.S. have measurable levels of unmetabolized folic acid in their systemic circulation, so this is a big problem that has only recently been recognized.

Why are high levels of unmetabolized folic acid in the blood problematic?

  1. They can mask vitamin B12 deficiency.
  2. They may lead to the deterioration of central nervous system function, especially in the elderly.
  3. They can cause anemia and cognitive impairment.
  4. They can accelerate the progression of certain cancers, including colon and prostate cancer.
  5. They can depress immune function, and they are associated with increased risk of death from all causes.

Folate, or Methy Tetra Hydrofolic Acid, aka natural folate on the other hand, which is found in foods in nature and in supplements with natural forms of folate is not only very necessary for health but is also safe to supplement with.

If you currently take a multivitamin and its a cheaper type of brand, you may want to make sure to look for folic acid. If it says folic acid on it or it doesn’t specifically mention that it is one of the active forms of folate such as 5-MTHF, metafolin, or folinic acid, then it probably has folic acid and should be avoided.

Foods that are naturally rich in folate include beef liver, and chicken liver is actually the highest source of folate and the best source; also dark, leafy greens such as spinach and collards. Lentils are a good source of folate if your patients tolerate legumes, as are beets, cauliflower, parsley, mustard greens, turnip greens, and even some lettuces.

The Real Food Multivitamin

For all the reasons listed above as well as in my previous articles on the dangers of iron and calcium supplementation, this is why I decided to start my own nutrition company a few years ago (DNA Formulas).

My multivitamin is a food sourced multivitamin made to contain the specific forms of vitamins that are deemed safe and actually necessary for optimal health.

How do you know if you’re vitamin is good or bad? I have a quick checklist when it comes to reading labels:

If you’re looking for a good multi, consider The Real Food Multivatmin!

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