Will Vitamins Boost Immune System & Health, Science Based Answers to Know

This article is a transcribed edited summary of a video Bob and Brad recorded in November of 2020. For the original video go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9TJZgMhiX0

Brad: Hi Folks, Brad Heineck, physical therapist.

Chris: I'm Chris the pharmacist.

Brad: Tonight, we’re going to be talking about, will vitamins boost your immune system and health. As well as this being science-based, we’re going to get this information from Chris, who is a pharmacist and he’s done a lot of research and recent research to get this covered properly. So, I need to talk about this, Chris. Just bear with me here, but today with all the highly processed foods, carbohydrates, that’s a big buzzword, now is the carbs and then sugars. Everything has got sugar in it from milk to anything, it amazing. Do we need supplements with all this garbage in our food? Do we get enough vitamins in our food because if you look at the cereal and you look at the ingredients, it’s like, my goodness, all these vitamins in here, really good. But, of course there’s a lot of sugar in there? That’s what we are going to talk about today. This is going to be a controversial subject. Some of the things that are brought up, there’s going to be people with strong feelings. Put them on the comment section! It’s nice to read them and then we get people talking back and forth.

Chris: Yeah, I think it’s good to have that interaction.

Brad: Absolutely. So, should we start with vitamins? Are they important for our system, our immune system particularly?

Chris: Oh, yeah. In today’s world, we are a COVID pandemic society, so yeah, I mean all nutrients are good nutrients. At the end of the day, no matter what we do, your immune system is good health, it’s a 24/7 job, 365 days a year. What you need to do is make sure you’re eating well. So, getting things through your diet, make healthy food choices, and you want to make sure you’re exercising. That’s a huge driver of your immune system. You want to make sure you’re getting your sleep because that’s also a huge driver of our immune system. And you want to make sure you’re drinking plenty of water. That’s a huge driver of our immune system. There’s four things there that are very, very essential and critical.

Brad: And the vitamins and minerals are just one part but without the other three?

Chris: Just think of yourself like a pyramid. If you kick a leg or two out, it’s not going to stand very well. We live in an Americanized society or a lot of us do, where it’s not always conducive to get the most nutrition. I’ve been a victim of going through drive through, I’m sure you have too.

Brad: Absolutely I have. You’re in a big hurry, you have things to do or you just don’t have time to get a proper diet.

Chris: Even those foods though do have some of the nutrients that we need. If you go to Subway, I mean there’s going to have fruits and veggies and grains and everything else. They can be fortified with your folates and your B vitamins and all the stuff that you get from fruits and vegetables. Natural foods have other ingredients in there, which is why it’s always best to get your nutrients through food, but when it comes down to it, sometimes we just can’t do that. Maybe taking a daily multivitamin is a reasonable answer. We want to make sure that within that multivitamin, it’s got just certain ingredients to make sure it’s doing the job for you.

Brad: Right. We aren’t going to get into this too much, but there are people with certain health conditions where you may need to take a lot of a certain specific vitamin. Do you know of some specifics?

Chris: Oh yeah, if you have something like osteoporosis. You’re going to need vitamin D and you’re going to need calcium. And actually, magnesium and a little vitamin K too. These are all things that work synergistically together to help to improve bone health. Multivitamins are going to generally these days be fortified with vitamin D. It’s been a buzzword; we’ve known a lot about it for a lot of years. It’ll be D3, it’s going to be cholecalciferol. It’s one of those things where you just look at your labels and make sure you’re getting roughly anywhere from 600-800 IUs a day. Your doctor will tell you if you need to take more.

Brad: IU’s?

Chris: International units. Most multivitamins will be in IU’s. Some newer ones are going to micrograms but for the sake of simplicity, we’ll keep it at IU’s.

Brad: So, we’re establishing already that obviously you need vitamins, you need minerals to stay healthy. You should be able to get them all from your diet, if you’re eating properly. If you have a health condition, maybe you need more of one or another, but let’s talk about particularly people who are generally healthy and they’re here to find out, I’m not sure I eat good enough. Instead, I’m one of those people, I’m always busy, I’m always running, doing fast food and I’m worried about having good health. I’m stressed a lot too. I think I should take a vitamin. So, a multivitamin is the way to go?

Chris: I think so. Generally speaking, I mean, the supplement industry is a $31 billion industry. That’s a big number folks.

Brad: Vitamins, supplemented?

Chris: Yeah, when I came out of college 25 years ago, it was about a $2-$3 billion industry. It’s expanded in 25 years. It’s definitely grown and definitely got a market and a place. To market, that’s one of the things we have to be careful with vitamins, a lot of these are super doses when you’re looking at some of the individualized supplements. I think for the average person, that’s reasonably healthy, but sometimes can’t eat perfectly well, a multivitamin is going to be the way to go. You can just go to any health store, any pharmacy, any grocery store, Amazon, you name it. They’re all going to have good multivitamins. You want to look for something that’s at least USP certified because that’s the standardization and that stands for United States Pharmacopeia.Their the standard so you know what’s in that bottle is in that bottle.

Brad: You said, USP.

Chris: USP yes.

Brad: So, if you look at the bottle it’ll say it somewhere on it? What does it say after that?

Chris: Yep. Basically, it’s just going to tell you that the ingredients that are in that bottle are certified, so if you have, we’ll call it 600 IUs of vitamin D, you can bet your dollar that it’s 600 IUs of vitamin D or 15 milligrams of vitamin C or 18 milligrams of iron.

Brad: So, there are supplemental vitamins or vitamins out there that may say they have so much of a vitamin but if it doesn’t say USP, it may or may not?

Chris: Yeah, it could have some things that are maybe not as good as what they should be. They could have some things that shouldn’t be in there. They may not even have the exact amount of dosage that it says it does. You want to look for a high value, well-respected company, that’s going to be giving you the nutrition needs that you need.

Brad: If we are looking at it and we know, let’s pick one vitamin, for example, vitamin B12 or something. Typically, what’s the range someone would need for that?

Chris: Yeah, you don’t need a heck of a lot for B12, you’re talking about just two to three micrograms. So that’s a really teeny tiny amount, not milligrams, that’s a factor of 1000 less. Teeny tiny, for vegans and vegetarians, listen up, these are people that we probably do want them taking a straight up vitamin B12 supplement or a B complex, because how do you get B12? Through meat. Basically, it’s all through your animal products. For people that have that lifestyle choice, which by the way, they’re eating better than most. But sometimes you don’t get quite what you need, so for them a multivitamin is probably going to help, or they could supplement a B12, but I would prefer a B complex. They’re a little bit more realistic with the doses that they contain.

Brad: So, now that’s kind of going back and forth here, because you said if you’re eating well then you probably don’t need a supplement.

Chris: Yeah, you gave me a curveball there. There’s an exception to every rule. I’m trying to hit it.

Brad: I’m thinking of all the vegans out there.

Chris: Oh yeah, it’s huge. Very proud of themselves. And they should be. It’s excellent. You’re not going to have a problem with a vegan because they eat better than just about everybody. It’s a lifestyle that they choose, and they know how to extract nutrients better than most. They’re very well-educated group of people.

Brad: One of the concerns is, and I don’t think some people are aware of this, if you’re taking a supplemental vitamin or just eating a healthy diet and your body already gets what it needs, then all of a sudden if you get an overload of a vitamin or mineral, what happens? Is it bad for you?

Chris: Our bodies are pretty interesting things. Basically, in a lot of cases, but not every case, when we get too much, and the B vitamins are really easy to pick on because they are water soluble, you excrete them, you get expensive urine. From that standpoint, you’re throwing your money out the toilet. We do want to be kind of careful with that. When you’re looking for your vitamins, some of these things have mega doses. Actually, in my pharmacy yesterday, on the way out the door, I said, let’s see what’s in this B. I saw a B12 supplement that had 1000 micrograms, which is actually 16,000 times the recommended daily intake.

Brad: So that’s just going in and most of it’s going right out.

Chris: Your body is going to extract what it needs that, but the reason they dose it that way is for specific people that have issues like pernicious anemia and things, but that’s a sidebar. For the most part, if you’re going to use a B vitamin and you’re vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, I’d either go with a B Complex or a multi because it’s going to be reasonably balanced and properly dosed.

Brad: The other thing is, I’m thinking, I’m not opposed to taking vitamin supplements. At the same time, I’ll forget to take it.

Chris: That’s the case with many people. Compliance is key.

Brad: I focus on my diet; I eat vegetables and I’ve really backed off on the carbs the last couple three years. It’s been very beneficial.

Chris: No matter what you choose, food is best, but a good multivitamin is going to get us what we need to do. Whether you’re looking at vitamin D which has things that stimulate our immune system, helps to minimize the risk for upper respiratory infection, good for our bones. Good for our mood. It’s the sunshine vitamin, so ideally if we could get it through standing outside, but we live in Wisconsin, so it's not conducive at all times of year to getting outside and getting that 10-15 minutes direct exposure to the sun.

Brad: That’s what I don’t get is 10-15 minutes of direct exposure and you say that, and I’ve heard that before, but it you’re out there and you have your gloves on and your coat and all covered up, so does your face. It seems like you’d need more than 10-15 minutes.

Chris: As opposed to when you’re just wearing short sleeves, etc. And with skin cancer risk you still have to be wearing sunscreen even in winter. If you’re out there for longer than 15 minutes, you better be protecting that skin.

Brad: Sunscreen doesn’t block the vitamin D benefits?

Chris: You’re going to get a very small amount absorbed so it’s not enough. We’re already not getting enough in the northern climate. The multivitamin does have enough already in there. That’s at 600 to 800 IU level, like we were talking at the beginning. It’s very, very important and it does a lot of good things for the body. So, you want to make sure your vitamin contains that D and most do.

Brad: Let’s say we have someone whose generally healthy, not taking any meds, normal lifestyle and they come onto a crisis in their life or something that lasts a number of weeks or months, putting unusual stress and/or physical demands on their body, say a new job, family changes or something that you’re just overloaded with. Are excess vitamins needed? Is that going to help you get through it?

Chris: Yeah. There’s actually some really good studies specifically with the B vitamins and there’s 8 of them. 8 separate B vitamins. Actually, it’s funny when you look at B1 through 12, you look at them and they are B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9 and B12. B’s are good for stress. Actually, a little bit of vitamin C too. A lot of the balanced B Complex’s, which is a type of multivitamin, the C enhances the absorption of the B vitamin so that’s why it’s important, if you’re looking for that one to get it, because if we’re working really long hours and with this COVID society, people are doing things that are probably far more unusual. They’re probably working two and three jobs. A lot of cases, just to make ends meet. That puts tax on your body, puts tax on your immune system. Those B vitamins do support that. As we’re going through all these stressors, our body tends to burn through those things. If we’re on the go like that, and we’re not being able to eat properly timed or properly nutritious meals. You’re probably going to need to supplement those. Most of the multivitamins again are going to address those needs to get you what you need. It’s just a one a day vitamin that you can handle. Like we were talking about earlier, more is better, I better take a B complex too, because I’m going through so much, you know, water soluble vitamins, you just excrete them out, so just pick one that you know you can stick with and be good with.

Brad: I know we’ve been talking about the vitamins and supplements, how to take them, what to watch out for, but again, I want to go back to the four things you mentioned. First of all, if you’re eating good food, fruits, vegetables, and meats, all good quality food, and you’re eating it regularly, you probably don’t need any vitamins because again, you’re making expensive urine. So, you can certainly be healthy without a supplement.

Chris: Yes, you don’t need it if you’re eating well. If you’re eating perfectly all the time, it’s a waste.

Brad: Not just a diet, you know, I’m a physical therapist, we both understand you need to get some exercises; you don’t have to be a marathon runner. Get out and walk. Do exercise to get things moving, and what was the other thing you mentioned?

Chris: Sleep.

Brad: Sleep! How could I forget. So, sleep, exercise, nutrition and just be happy.

Chris: Reducing your stress does have an effect on your immune system. There’s several other nutrients and other minerals that stimulate our immune system like zinc and magnesium. There’s a lot of stuff out there. When you get a complete multivitamin, a little bit of vitamin A, these are all things that work synergistically in our body. There’s thousands of little chemical actions and reactions that are going on that stimulate our immune system. But like I said, those four pillars that we talked about; the sleep, the rest, the good nutrition and exercise are huge. But vitamins can supplement that. If we’re not getting it through our diet, it’s certainly going to help us be healthier, especially in these extended really unusual times.

Brad: I have more questions.

Chris: Fire away.

Brad: Ok, say you go into your store and like you had mentioned, there’s a whole wall full of vitamins, so, we’re not going to pick out certain brands but again, look for the USP on the label, look for exaggerated amounts of volumes.

Chris: Avoid the exaggerated amounts. The super vitamins are not going to help you. You’re just going to end up excreting them out. Even if we are eating a partially nutritious diet, a lot of the things are already supplemented in our cereals and breads and grain and folates and things of that nature. We want to be mindful of that because too much can be bad. In some cases.

Brad: If you’re taking medications, make sure to talk to your doctor.

Chris: Very specifically on that. There’s certain interactions, my favorite one is the blood thinner warfarin because of vitamin K but certain antibiotics with the minerals like magnesium and zinc and calcium can inhibit how certain antibiotics are absorbed. If you’re taking things like Tums or antacid, they slow down the thyroid medications and things like that. You want to be careful with the timing of nutrients. It’s one of those things that is certainly going to help. Iron is another big one that you want to be careful with, it’s best on an empty stomach.

Brad: Outside of iron, I’m thinking most vitamins you mentioned before when we were talking, you need to have a diet or whatever’s in the food, so your body absorbs it, and you have a complete system working. It’s not like you can take vitamins without eating and be healthy.

Chris: Correct. There’s no shortcuts, Brad. There just isn’t. So, what a multivitamin is going to do is to supplement what we’re not quite getting. It’s just going to provide a benefit, but you can’t just go on coffee, cigarettes, and water and vitamins. It’s just not going to work. We said some things pretty bad there.

Brad: Alright, wow, so very good. I think there’s good news and bad news here. I mean, mostly good news. You don’t need to take a vitamin if you’re eating well and if you’re not and your concerned, go ahead. But make sure you take some good ones and not too much. I’m exhausted here.