Vitamins and minerals, and trace minerals for that matter, are micronutrients that the human body requires in specific concentrations to function optimally. They are substances which, if we are deficient in any of them, may potentially disrupt normal physiological processes, including bioenergetics. However, when consumed in excess dosages at supraphysiologic levels, micronutrients do not further improve health nor enhance mental or physical performance. In some instances, repeated mega-dosing of certain fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A can in fact be toxic to the human body, and even some water-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin C can put a strain on the kidneys as the body has to metabolize and excrete the excess dosage, with potential consequences such as kidney stones or mild disruptions in the body’s acid/alkaline base that can compromise health.
I have chosen to highlight this topic of dosing in my blog today specifically because, as a nutritionist, I have observed for decades an alarming obsession by a health conscious segment of the public to megadose micronutrients, as though large doses of vitamins were a panacea of health, a trend that has been driven aggressively by the mass marketing strategies of nutraceutical companies selling products that indirectly claim to resolve the etiology of virtually every chronic and acute malady, even aging. Everyone reads the large print on a supplement label, but few people read the fine print, especially the ubiquitous FDA warning: “THESE STATEMENTS HAVE NOT BEEN EVALUATED BY THE FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION. THIS PRODUCT IS NOT INTENDED TO DIAGNOSE, TREAT, CURE OR PREVENT ANY DISEASE”. Caveat emptor indeed!
That said, the role of vitamins and minerals in bioenergetic processes can hardly be understated. You can top off a car’s gas tank, but if it is low on oil and poorly maintained, it will surely break down sooner or later. Further hampering a proper scientific literature review of the role of vitamins and minerals in bioenergetics are numerous confounding variables and multivariates that are rarely factored into studies looking at micronutrients. One noteworthy problem common to nearly all such studies is the lack of testing of subjects’ baseline levels of vitamins at the start of the study. It presents as extremely difficult to know for certain whether a study participant benefited from the supplementation of a specific vitamin because they were initially deficient in that micronutrient on a cellular level, as determined by tests such as Spectracell’s intracellular functional micronutrient analyses and mitogenic stimulation and measurement of DNA synthesis, as opposed to the overly simplistic measurement of circulating levels of micronutrients in plasma sometimes ordered up by family physicians in a standard blood panel, which is nowhere near as accurate as Spectracell’s testing methods.
An excellent illustration of the abovementioned point may be found in a clinical trial from 2007 which involved a period of supplementation of vitamins C and E that lasted 3 weeks. The subjects from one group consumed a daily dose of 400 mg of vitamin E, subjects from the second group ingested 1000 mg of vitamin C, subjects from the third group ingested 400 mg of vitamin E along with 1000 mg of vitamin C, and subjects from group 4 (the control group) consumed a placebo. Exercise testing was administered in the form of an anaerobic sprint test (RAST) and the Cooper 12-min run test. The results indicated that there were no significant differences between groups during the study in anaerobic power assessed by RAST. The study did however find a significant difference between groups in terms of aerobic power (p < 0.05), indicating an association with aerobic glycolysis and oxygenation of the blood. The study concluded that daily consumption of vitamin E, vitamin C, and a combination of vitamins E and vitamin C for a period of 3 weeks significantly improved aerobic power. However, this is yet another study that did not look at the baseline or post-study intracellular concentrations of micronutrients in study participants, hence making it impossible to determine if the subjects benefited as observed because of pre-existing deficiencies in vitamins E and C or from the ingestion of unnatural supraphysiologic doses of the vitamins, thus placing in doubt the validity of conclusions drawn from the study. As with all matters relating to science, especially in the murky depths of nutrition science, the proverbial “devil is in the details”!