HEALTH & WELLNESS Middle Age Maladies Nutrition  >  Vitamin Supplements – Fact or Fiction

Vitamin Supplements – Fact or Fiction

Vitamin Supplements – Fact or Fiction
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By Steve Nubie

They’re a good idea, but they may not provide all the answers. Here’s how to balance vitamin supplements with your diet and prescription medications.

Here’s the telegram. A daily multi-vitamin is a good idea. In fact, for people over 50 a B-12 supplement and a Vitamin-D supplement also make sense. After that, the true benefits of vitamin supplements become confused between wives-tales and pure hype from the $19 billion dollar a year vitamin supplement industry. What’s critical to understand is that vitamins and minerals can do more harm then good, especially in large doses or with the assumption that a supplement can compensate for a poor diet or a significant deficiency.

Yes, there are occasions where an Omega-3 supplement can help such as fish oil, but there are some combinations with both prescription medications and other supplements or whole foods that can create unique problems or conditions.

Talk to your Doctor or a Nutritionist

If you have a serious condition and are hoping that vitamin and mineral supplements can affect a cure or help to manage a condition, you really should discuss the facts with your doctor. Doctors and dieticians base their prescriptions for care on scientific fact.   And that’s where the vitamin and mineral supplement industry fails. Many of the claims made about various supplements are unsupported by carefully managed scientific studies, or are at best -a whisper of the actual truth like a grain of sand on a beach of knowledge.

Why are Vitamins and Minerals so important

Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients. They have very positive affects on our metabolism from digestion to blood chemistry to supporting our immune system and preventing conditions ranging from scurvy to beri-beri and goiter. If those are strange sounding and archaic conditions it’s because our modern diet naturally pre-empts many of these conditions because of the natural sources of vitamins and minerals we consume everyday. And that’s critical to understand. The best way to ingest vitamins and minerals is through a well-balanced diet.

What is a well-balanced diet?

To put it simply, a well-balanced diet is derived from the regular ingestion of meals or nutrients throughout the course of the day across a range of food types including the FDA recommended 5-a-day combination of fruits and vegetables, proteins derived from either animals or plants, a certain amount of fats, grains and dairy products providing calcium. Unfortunately, many of us don’t follow this regimen and assume that supplements will compensate for a breakfast consisting of coffee and a few vitamins, lunch at a fast food outlet and dinner in a restaurant across 4 courses and 4,000 calories. It’s a bad pattern and many supplements can’t even give you their minimal benefit unless you understand when to take them.

Vitamin and Mineral Supplement 101

There are two types of vitamin and mineral supplements. Water soluble and Fat soluble.

  1. Water soluble vitamins include vitamins C and B. Because they are water soluble they flush out of our systems very easily and sometimes give our urine an interesting and vibrant shade of green, yellow or orange. The good news is our bodies flush the excess out with no harm. The bad news is that excessive doses can put a burden on our kidneys and liver for no gain.
  2. Fat soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E and K. If you take a vitamin supplement before or without eating a meal little of the nutrient value is retained, and with fat soluble vitamins – most is lost.

Take your vitamins and minerals with a meal

If you take your vitamin and mineral supplements with a meal you will realize the maximum benefit from the supplement. This applies to both water soluble and fat soluble supplements. If you take them in isolation you’re only creating a rainbow of colored urine.

Why Mega-Dosing doesn’t make sense

There’s something in the American mindset that leads us to believe that more is better. If the FDA recommendation for Vitamin C is 100 milligrams than 1,000 milligrams should be ten times better. That’s incorrect. Linus Pauling touted mega doses of Vitamin C up to 3,000 mg a day as a way to support the immune system and defeat colds and viruses. To date, no scientific study supports that claim. That’s not to say that Vitamin C is bad for you and won’t help your immune system. It’s all a question of dosage and how much you really need.

Mega-dosing takes on a much more sinister consequence with Vitamin A. Too much Vitamin A can seriously compromise liver function and in some cases cause liver failure and death. Death is not why we take vitamin supplements. But it gets more complicated as we go on.

Side-Effects and unintended consequences with prescription meds.

This gets back to that good news/bad news scenario. Many vitamins and minerals do an excellent job of affecting our blood chemistry. For example, Vitamin K which is common in Kale and other green, leafy vegetables is a natural blood thinner. So is fish-oil or Omega-3. An aspirin a day regimen also serves to thin the blood and there are pharmaceutical blood thinners like Coumadin or Warfarin that also serve to thin the blood. Here’s the problem. If you were to combine all of these ingredients from the natural to the supplement to the pharmaceutical you could have serious problems with blood that simply will not clot. That means that something as simple as a nose-bleed could be a life-threatening condition. This gets back to an intelligent discussion with your doctor and dietician. Either tell them exactly what you are taking or ask them what to take. A daily witches-brew of stuff can do more harm than good when you start mixing pharmaceuticals with multiple supplements.

What’s the good stuff?

A daily multi-vitamin is a good place to start. Take it after a meal, preferably breakfast. If you’re over 50 a B-12 supplement is also a good idea because we don’t metabolize this particular vitamin as well as we get older. 100 mg of B-12 is a good place to start and because it’s water soluble any excess will pass. If in doubt, ask your doctor. You might also consider a Vitamin-D supplement. 300 to 400 mg is a good place to start. It helps with overall bone health. Some people over 50 also take an Omega-3 supplement. This is usually referred to as “fish oil.” It comes in both dissolvable lozenge form and liquid. Keep this refrigerated. Most vitamins and minerals are fine in a cool, dark place like a kitchen drawer but any oils should be refrigerated.

The supplement bottom-line

More is not better. Our blood chemistry is a delicate balance. Mega-doses and indiscriminate supplement choices can do more harm than good. Make the case with your doctor. Push for answers and consider a conversation with a dietician. They’re nice people. They just want to help. And sometimes we just need to ask rather than guess or trust an unregulated claim on a vitamin bottle.


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