Health

Vitamins and Supplements — Do We Need Them?

March 27, 2014

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Some call them the magic bullets. They come in various shapes, sizes and colors. Sometimes they can get expensive, depending upon exactly what you are buying. More than 50 percent of Americans buy and consume vitamins and supplements. Around the world, more than 68 billion dollars is spent yearly on them. They are often thought of as some kind of magic formula towards good health. But, how true are these perceptions?

What is it that these vitamins and minerals do? They are food components that serve as coenzymes in the metabolic reactions that release energy, transport and consume oxygen, and maintain cell integrity. They contain nutrients that your body can’t manufacture and therefore must get from food. They come in two basic categories: water-soluble and fat-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins tend to accumulate in the body, whereas water-soluble vitamins do not. We need all the vitamins (A-K) to help in all the different functions that the body must perform all day long (see the accompanying chart for specific functions of each vitamin). Without them, conditions ranging from birth defects and inadequate blood clotting to hair loss can occur. The question is, what is the best way to get all of these essential vitamins into your system?

There is little doubt that getting your vitamins through a proper diet that involves a variety of foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans, can give you all the vitamins you need and lower your risk of disease, especially cancer. A U.S. government study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, showed that taking supplements had no effect whatsoever in reducing cancer or cardiovascular disease. This is in contrast to those who get their vitamin intake through food. The American Institute of Cancer Research examined 4,500 studies in 1997 and found that eating a healthy diet was better than taking supplements.

A few months ago, two trials on vitamin supplements were completed. In the first trial, a composite of cardiovascular events occurred at similar rates in patients who received a high-dose multivitamin and multi-mineral mixture and in those who received placebo (27% versus 30%; HR 0.89, 95% CI 0.75-1.07). In the second trial, the changes in global cognitive function and in verbal memory over an average follow-up of 8.5 years were no different in the multivitamin versus the placebo group.

The results of the two trials, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, as well as previously reported guidance from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, found insufficient evidence to recommend for or against vitamin and mineral supplementation for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease or cancer in healthy adults.

If you are eating a balanced diet, you will get all the vitamins that you need. The absorption of vitamins into your system will happen smoother and faster. Let’s take a look at what vitamins perform which functions for us and which foods will help us get them.

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Can you take too many supplements? Definitely! When it comes to vitamins, more is not necessarily better. For instance, too much vitamin C or zinc could cause nausea, diarrhea and stomach cramps. Too much selenium could lead to problems including hair loss, gastrointestinal upset, fatigue and mild nerve damage. We need vitamins and minerals in our diet, but spending a large amount of money on supplements that may not work is truly a waste. There are two areas where supplementation may help you somewhat. Vitamin D deficiency is becoming more and more prevalent as we spend less time outdoors. For older individuals vitamin B12 may be necessary.

Eating a well-balanced diet of healthy foods that include the needed vitamins will “add hours to their days, days to their years and years to their lives.”  

Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. certified personal trainer and a certified wellness coach with over 18 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It! and is available for private consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at alan@alanfitness.com. Check out his website: www.alanfitness.com. His U.S. Line is 516-568-5027.