Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Vitamin Supplements

I get a lot of questions about whether you should take vitamin supplements. People are bombarded by the media, friends, holistic counselors, personal trainers, etc. telling them which vitamin or mineral is hot right now and will keep you young looking, prevent disease, help you lose fat, and work other miracles. I’m not saying there isn’t any truth to some of these claims, there is a lot of solid research out there on specific vitamins and minerals being good for certain things. However, the majority of the most compelling research usually compares the difference between people who are deficient (or in the lowest quintile) of vitamin status versus those in the highest quintile. For example, a study might suggest that Vitamin D protects against breast cancer, but that is when comparing women with the lowest vitamin D plasma levels versus those women with the highest. Also, you have to keep in mind that plenty of studies show a world of difference in benefits when comparing a vitamin/mineral in supplement form versus IV infusion (ex: Vitamin C studies), or for Vitamin D, most studies show the greatest benefit through UV ray exposure. Generally, more benefit is seen through high doses via IV or (Vitamin D) UV rays.

So, do I recommend taking vitamin/mineral supplements? The answer depends on each and every person. I can’t categorize all women over the age of 50 and say they all need to take calcium (Reason: Imagine that one lady eats 4 yogurts/day, 2 glasses of milk, 1 glass kefir, and eats a can of sardines with the bones- she most likely doesn’t need to take excess calcium!).

What I do recommend is having your diet analyzed to determine if you are at risk for being deficient in any vitamins or minerals, and determine if you can easily fix that through diet. If not, taking a supplement may be warranted. Or, if your diet is terrible and you  have no plans for changing this (which obviously I don’t advocate and don’t know who would want to keep a terrible diet), a multi-vitamin might be okay once every few days.

Keep in mind taking in high levels of vitamins and minerals can harm you, especially minerals. Some build up in your system and can be toxic and fatal (eg: iron), or taking high doses of one can inhibit the absorption of another (eg: iron and calcium). So, before you start taking 800 mg of folate, speak with your doctor or a registered dietitian to see if there will be any negative reprocussions. You can look to my previous posts about my thoughts on Vitamin C and fish oil supplementation. So that’s my point of view on vitamin and mineral supplementation…. my recommendation (and the recommendation of most RDs): get it through food and save yourself the money!

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