Is Your Multivitamin Toxic?
by Sayer Ji
today. In fact, most mass-market vitamins contain chemicals that the EPA does not
allow in our public drinking water at levels above 50 parts per billion per liter.
According to the EPA's Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) standards, the highest
allowable level of selenium in public drinking water is 50 parts per billion (equivalent to
50 micrograms, dry weight). To get a sense of how small an allowable limit this is,
50 parts per billion is equivalent to a tablespoon of water in an Olympic-size
swimming pool.

How can vitamin manufacturers advertise something as being a "nutrient" when the
EPA-out of concern for our health-has barred it from our drinking water at all but
exceedingly minute levels? Have sodium selenite/selenate really been shown to be
toxic? A brief perusal of toxicology reports from the Hazardous Substances Databank and shows that both forms can be carcinogenic and
genotoxic and may contribute to reproductive and developmental problems in
animals and humans. The question is not whether these minerals have toxicity, but
rather, at what level they overwhelm our capacity for their detoxification and/or
biotransformation into non-toxic metabolites?

A word should be said here about the differences that exist between inorganic
minerals and biologically active ones:

The selenium that is found in foods like brazil nuts, mustard seeds, and fresh produce
grown in selenium-rich soil is infinitely different from the biologically inert forms being
put in some multivitamins. In fact, i.e., sodium selenite/selenate can cause cancer,
whereas the selenium found within food, or laboratory chelated forms like
selenomethionine have all been shown to prevent and combat cancer.

The basic principle that explains this difference is that when you isolate a nutrient or
vitamin out of the food complex within which it is naturally found, and where it is
inseparably bound to thousands of known and unknown food factors (e.g., enzymes,
protein chaperones, glyconutrients, etc.) it is no longer as beneficial to life. This is
especially true in the case of vertebrate mammals who are equipped to get their
minerals from the plants they ingest or through the biotransformation of inorganic
minerals to organic ones by microflora in their gastrointestinal tracts.

The primary reason that sodium selenite/selenate are preferred by some vitamin
manufacturers over safer, more beneficial forms like chelated or yeast-grown
selenium is because it is more profitable to use raw materials of lower quality.

"You get what you pay for" is a saying that almost always rings true for dietary
supplements. Buying industrial waste products, or chemicals that are considered
hazardous waste, and repackaging them as "dietary supplements" can be extremely

Indeed, this is not the first time in American history that such a hoax has been
perpetuated on the public. The FDA-approved use of fluoride in our drinking water
and the use of radioactive cobalt-60 culled from nuclear reactors for the
IRRADIATION OF conventional food illustrates how industrial waste products with
known toxicity are eventually converted into commodities or technologies "beneficial
to health." Whereas initially these substances have very high disposal costs for the
industries that excrete them into our environment, the liability is converted - through
the right combination of lobbying, miseducation and "checkbook science" - - back
into a commodity, with the environment and consumer suffering health and financial
losses as a result.

Unfortunately, inorganic forms of selenum are not the only problem with
mass-market vitamins. Take the multivitamin Centrum, for instance, whose
manufacturer Wyeth is one of the most powerful pharmaceutical companies in the
world. This vitamin contains the following chemicals:

Chemical: Amount Found in Centrum/ EPA Maximum Allowed Limit in 1 Liter of
Drinking Water

1) Sodium selenite: 55 mcg/ 50 mcg

2) Nickelous sulfate: 5 mcg/ 100 mcg

3) Stannous chloride (tin): 10 mcg/ 4 mcg

4) Ferrous fumarate (iron): 18 mg/.3 mg

5) Manganese sulfate: 2.3 mg/.05 mg

6) Cupric sulfate:.5 mg/ 1.3 mg

In the left hand column above you will see the quantities of inorganic minerals found
within each dose of Centrum. In the right hand column are the maximum quantity
allowed by the EPA in one liter of drinking water In the case of stannous chloride
(tin), ferrous fumarate (iron) and manganese sulfate there are significantly higher
doses in Centrum than are considered safe for human consumption in a liter of
water. Although the others listed are at levels well under the EPA's allowable limit, it is
simply amazing that they are found in a product for human consumption at any
quantity given their known toxicity.

So, if these chemicals are toxic, how can they be marketed as beneficial to our

As of today no law forbids the use of these substances in dietary supplements,
despite laboratory research demonstrating their toxicity in animals, and
epidemiological and occupational data demonstrating their actual or potential toxicity
in humans. This is due to the widespread acceptance in the U.S. of a a chemical and
drug industry-friendly "weight of evidence" standard for toxicological risk
assessment. Rather than using the "precautionary principle," which dictates that a
substance that is suspected of being harmful should be duly regulated in order to
minimize the public's exposure, the "weight of evidence" paradigm requires a panel of
government appointed experts must evaluate all available toxicological data, and
must come up with a consensus that the evidence, unequivocally, demonstrates the
substance in question poses a serious health risk. Until such an assessment can be
made, a number of substances with obvious toxicity are "innocent until proven guilty"
and can be portrayed by irresponsible and/or uneducated manufacturers as being
beneficial to human health. It is sad and ironic that at a time when smaller dietary
supplement manufacturers are being accused of being "unregulated" and having poor
quality standards (even when they are incurring great costs by using vastly superior
ingredients) that massive pharmaceutical companies who have every resource at
their disposal are allowed to market toxic chemicals to consumers under the banner
of USP (United States Pharmacopeia) or "pharmaceutical grade" quality, and get
away with it.

Ultimately, we need to use common sense in our purchasing decisions and realize
that sometimes companies will intentionally mislead the public-with the complicity of
regulatory bodies like the FDA-and will advertise a product that has no health
benefits; or worse, may actually detract from our health. The fact that Centrum may
or may not be "the #1 doctor multivitamin brand" is irrelevant, considering that one
does not ordinarily go to a doctor to seek wise counsel on nutrition. It is simply not
their specialty.

The irony is that billions of dollars in health care cost -and the suffering these costs
represent-could be saved every year if Americans took the simple step of taking a
good multivitamin every day. It is advisable to look for product manufacturers that
use high quality ingredient, including those from whole foods, as they are easier for
our bodies to absorb and to utilize and therefore contribute more significantly to filling
the voids in our diet.

About The Author

Sayer Ji is the founder of , a natural medicine and
alternative toxicology database.
In episode #11 (season 2) of CSI:
Crime Scene Investigation, a woman
poisons her husband with the
chemical sodium selenite. Strange as
it may sound, this exotic murder
weapon, and it's close cousin, sodium
selenate, are listed as "nutrients" on
the labels of most mass-markets
vitamins. Even though both sodium
selenite and selenate are classified as
dangerous and toxic to the
environment by regulatory bodies
such as the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) and the European
Union, they are the primary forms of
the mineral sold on the mass market
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