Americans consume large portions of highly processed, refined foods that have been stripped of nutrients. These poor diet choices have lead to major diseases like heart disease and cancer.1,2,3,4,5 The nutritional supplement industry has attempted to rebalance the scale by supplying the nutrients that Americans are not getting from their diet. However, rather than supplying nutrients as they would occur naturally in food, most supplement companies use mega dose amounts of synthetic vitamins in their supplements.
Additionally, these companies produce their supplements based on results of how isolated vitamins reacted in test tube, animal, and human studies.6,7 The presumption is that, if the isolated nutrient acted as an antioxidant in a test tube, it would then contribute in a similar fashion to our health when provided as a supplement. It seems that epidemiologic studies using these isolated vitamins do not show the expected benefit we assume would occur from supplementing with isolated nutrients.6,8 However, the expected benefit does occur from consuming whole foods. Where did we go wrong?
Let’s look at the reductionist approach to producing drugs, which has been applied to the supplement industry. Many drugs are derived from chemicals found naturally within living organisms. These chemicals are isolated, chemically modified, and ultimately produced synthetically through organic chemistry. These chemicals have selective effects on human physiology and are used to mitigate disease symptoms.9 In a similar fashion, vitamins were identified and isolated from food and produced synthetically. Science presumed that adding these synthetic vitamins back into the diet would create the same health benefit that you get from whole food.6,10
The problem? Plants do not just produce isolated chemicals; rather, they are complex mechanisms for functional value. Plants contain hundreds of components which have synergistic and complementary functions.11,12 Scientists have discovered only a small percentage of phytochemicals, the thousands of other nutrients that are unique to each plant.6,11 New research being conducted on phytochemicals will help us understand the complete contribution of food to our quality of health.
Just as cars are more than their component parts of iron, plastic, rubber and glass, the potency of a food for human health is not merely individual constituents. Rather, it is the functional interaction of those nutrients. For example, the antioxidant activity of the entire apple is approximately equal to 1500 mg of ascorbic acid. But the amount of ascorbic acid in an apple (5.7 mg) contributes to only 0.4% of the total antioxidant activity, indicating the importance of other compounds as antioxidants.13 The entire whole food rather than the dose of isolated compounds contributes to the entire potency of a supplement.
The whole food mechanism that exists in the plant is needed in full to completely support each animal species. Deviating from the whole food path seems to demonstrate a premature decline in our health. It is important to remember that, if scientists could isolate and synthetically produce all of the phytochemicals in a plant, they could not combine them in a package that would germinate and grow. The real value of the plant is more than its chemical makeup.14 Having all of the pieces of a car in a crate does us no good, if we desire the function of a car.
In conclusion, there is increasing evidence that the value of food in human health cannot be reduced to a few important isolated nutrients; rather it is the complexity of foods from which we derive the greatest benefit. Furthermore, epidemiological evidence suggests that deviation from a whole food diet (refined/processed foods) contributes to declining health and greater incidence of chronic diseases. Based on this argument, it is logical that replacing a few nutrients, whether mega-dosed or not, will not complete the health picture,8,15 as this approach departs from the true potency of nature.13 To complete the health picture, we, as health care professionals, need to provide our patients with all the nutrients that nature intends.16
Paul Frank, D.C., graduated cum laude in 2001 from the Cleveland Chiropractic College. Shortly after opening a joint practice in Overland Park, Kansas, Dr. Frank realized that the power of chiropractic could be augmented with whole food nutrition. He introduced Standard Process products into the practice and soon realized how this enhanced the practice. Dr. Frank recently accepted a position with Standard Process where he has the opportunity to both practice chiropractic and educate colleagues, students, and patients about these unique products.