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Why We Need Vitamins

When Ritual’s founder and CEO, Katerina Schneider, first approached our now-VP of Research & Development, Dr. Luke Bucci, the first thing she wanted to know was: do we even need these things? Is it just marketing? As it turns out, we do need vitamins. We sat back down with Luke to find out more.

Here’s the thing we’ve never understood: If you already eat a reasonably healthy diet, why would a vitamin be at all necessary?
Well, many reasons. First of all, hardly anyone eats a reasonably healthy diet. And nobody gets the daily value—the recommended daily amount of essential vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins—every day and all the time. Less than 5% get the daily value and those are usually people that take a supplement. Getting that out of your diet is virtually impossible. A healthy diet may be good enough to prevent a nutrient deficiency disease—say, scurvy—but it’s not enough for your best health.

There can also be some sort of an interference. You can be taking a drug, for instance, that is blocking absorption or activity of a certain nutrient. For example, oral contraceptive drugs previously decreased some B vitamins and minerals. You would see deficiencies of those, which affected mood, heart health, etc

Interesting. So, what are some of the most common drugs or behavioral decisions that cause such an interference?
Actually, some of them are the higher dose supplements themselves. You could, for example, have a balanced diet—you can have 100% of everything--and then you take way too much calcium. That excess will suppress the uptake of other minerals such as magnesium, iron, zinc, manganese, copper and more. Another common interference comes with acid-blocking drugs. They reduce stomach acid, which is great, except, you need stomach acid to be able to get vitamins and minerals out of the food matrix that they’re presented in. By this I mean that you have to digest them to get the vitamins off of what they’re stuck on, so your body can pull it in and use it. Lastly, high-fiber diets are notorious for preventing the uptake of trace minerals, like zinc, copper and iron. What happens is the minerals just get stuck on the fibers. They get stuck and—let’s put it this way—they go in and they go out. You can’t absorb them. In that case, you can eat a very healthy diet and theoretically ruin your intake—prevent what’s going in your mouth from getting into your cells.

So, of course meeting your Daily Value and achieving your best health sounds like a great idea in theory. But, do these deficiencies really matter? Most people seem to be getting by, even with poor diets.
That’s one thing that’s totally amazing. Humans are the most adaptable creatures on the planet. We’re the pinnacle of evolution. The point here is that we can get by without eating a perfectly balanced diet because the body has evolved to compensate. But here’s where it gets complicated. If you don’t have enough calcium, for instance, the body will steal it from the bone if it absolutely has to. That’s where bone loss comes from. And you wouldn’t know if you have bone loss until it’s really bad and you have a fracture somewhere. In a nutshell, that’s the reason you need supplements. They even out the variability of dietary intakes. You know that you’re giving your body everything it wants, so it’ll sort it out, do the triage, and hopefully nothing is lacking.

How can we tell if we’re getting what we need without a bunch of tests?
A major symptom of not getting what you need is fatigue, which happens because your body is busy triaging for all those missing nutrients. You might notice it first in your mood; turns out all those happy chemicals in your brain--your neurotransmitters--need folate, B12, magnesium, and more. For example, if you’re a little deficient in iron, your body’s going to go, “OK, we don’t have enough iron to keep the brain happy and make blood cells.” So it uses the iron it gets to make blood cells and then whatever is left over can go to making you happy in the brain. And if very little is left, well, you won’t be feeling so great.

What determines the Daily Values?
The scientific branch of the US government determines Daily Values that go on supplement and food labels. Expert panels review the published data and carefully consider links between health and nutrient intake, how much is too much, how much is too little, how much is just right for the general population, and many other details. Once agreement is reached (that's not easy!) their recommendation then goes through a lengthy and laborious political process to enact. It's a huge process that affects many commercial enterprises. So while the science is all there for a change, it might take 10-20 years before that knowledge is made a part of how foods and supplements are regulated - which means years before we see changes on food and product labels.

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