Do you know what nutritional supplements you
By Kyle Roderick
Dozens of studies published in peer-reviewed
medical journals have reported that people who either take vitamin supplements
or have higher blood levels of certain vitamins, especially the antioxidant
vitamins C and E and the carotene family (precursors of vitamin A), are in
better health than those who don't.
For instance, various studies indicate that
folate and vitamin B6 can reduce the risk of heart attack, and that vitamin C
exerts a protective effect on the arteries of diabetics. Medium to high doses of
vitamin C and betacarotene, as well as elevated doses of vitamin D, have been
linked to a reduced risk of osteoarthritis and less pain should the
In a Finnish study, male smokers who took small
doses of vitamin E lowered their chances of getting prostate cancer by 30
percent and lowered their risk of dying from prostate cancer by over 40 percent.
What's more, American and European studies have found that lycopene, a member of
the carotene family that is found in tomatoes and other vegetables, seems to
help prevent prostate and colorectal cancer and possibly coronary heart disease.
While Americans spend millions of dollars
annually on vitamins, minerals, herbs and other nutritional supplements, the
supplement industry is unregulated by the FDA and thus does not have to adhere
to strict government standards. This means that consumers may not always be
buying what they think they're buying. In the worst-case scenario, tainted
supplements (such as melatonin) have been known to cause illness and death.
Nevertheless, many people take their nutritional
supplements every day without fail because they believe they can cure and
prevent illness, raise energy levels and increase longevity. But how many of us
actually understand what kind of vitamins and other supplements we need, along
with knowing the unique capabilities and differences between various
"It can be difficult for individuals to
correctly assess which supplements they need," says Dale Prokupek, M.D., a
board-certified gastroenterologist and director of the Educational Subcommittee
of the Division of Nutrition and Gastroenterology at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in
Los Angeles. "Generally, it doesn't hurt to take vitamin supplements as
long as you don't overconsume them," says Dr. Prokupek. "Eating a
balanced diet meets the standard vitamin requirements for most people over
40," he adds, "but there are reasons to supplement certain vitamins at
certain times -- for instance, supplements to help promote cognitive functions
in older adults, iron supplements during exercise or as an adjunct to a strict
Some people, however, can benefit from taking
vitamin/mineral supplements because they fail to consume enough crucial
minerals, such as calcium, iron or selenium, in their daily diets. And how do
you know if you're mineral-deficient? "Go to your primary care doctor for a
serum mineral level blood test," advises Dr. Prokupek. "This is the
only way to find out what an individual's mineral levels are." Whatever you
do, don't design your own vitamin program without consulting your doctor.
There are two types of vitamins. The fat-soluble
ones, such as A, D, E and K, are stored in the body. Then there are the
water-soluble ones, such as C, thiamine, riboflavin, B6, niacin, folacin, B12,
biotin and pantothenic acid.
Dr. Prokupek, who designs and personally mixes
his own vitamin formulas for his patients, says that the ideal way to take
vitamins is to "customize vitamin and mineral intake according to family
history." For example, if an individual's family history includes a
predisposition toward heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol,
supplementation with a heart-healthy formula including flax seed, fiber, folic
acid, vitamins A, C and E, selenium and grapeseed oil might be recommended.
For individuals who want to prevent or slow the
progression of Alzheimer's disease and senile dementia, a vitamin formula
including B6, pyridoxine, vitamin E, phosphatidyl serine, ginkgo and other
elements might be a worthwhile supplement. Besides being linked to a slower risk
of colon cancer and coronary heart disease and a slower progression of
Alzheimer's disease, vitamin E has also been shown to boost immunity in elderly
The main thing to remember when choosing
supplements, says Dr. Prokupek, is to "ensure you understand your health
condition and then define your goals. Your health condition," says Dr.
Prokupek, "should determine which supplements you take." Another good
idea, he adds, is to re-evaluate your diet. "Try and see how you might be
consuming more vitamins, minerals and fiber through your food," he says.
"Snacking on an apple or carrots once or twice a day is a healthy and
natural way to get more vitamins and fiber."
(Kyle Roderick is a free-lance health and
medical reporter based in Los Angeles.)
Photo: You may eat such a healthy diet
that you don't need to take vitamin supplements. The only way to determine which
supplements you may require is by having a simple and inexpensive blood test.