VITAMINS: TO TAKE OR NOT TO TAKE THEM?
By Waldo Acebo, MD
Vitamins are essential to our health and wellbeing. But when it comes to supplements, people are mostly divided into two groups: those who strongly believe in their preventive benefits, and those who will not consider taking them unless a deficiency or disease has been detected by their primary doctor. Have you ever asked yourself to which group you do belong?
Dietary supplements are used by more than 150 million Americans. A new analysis of the American Association of Poison Control indicates that there have been no deaths whatsoever from vitamins in the 27 years that such reports have been available. Vitamin therapy is safer than drug therapy (according to ABC News, prescription drugs are now causing more deaths than motor vehicle accidents).
On the other hand, in a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine entitled "Dietary Supplements and Mortality Rate in Older Women," it was found that supplementation with Vitamin B complex was associated with a 7% reduction in mortality, Vitamin C with a 4%, Vitamin D with an 8%, and Magnesium, Selenium and Zinc with a 3%.
Research shows that people who take dietary supplements are more likely to be physically active, weigh less, have a lower waist-to-hip ratio, and have a lower prevalence of smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Also, they are higher educated, and have higher income levels compared to people who take no supplements.
TAKING “PILLS” VS. CONSUMING REAL FOOD
A balanced and nutritious diet is the natural and most effective way to get the vitamins and minerals we need. Nevertheless, the soil and the food we grow have considerably decreased their quality and content in nutrients due to the indiscriminate use of natural resources. Poor eating habits, non-balanced diets, and fast food also contribute to nutritional deficiencies. Multi-vitamins and dietary supplements represent an alternative for getting some of the health benefits that we are not getting from our diet.
DOES IT MATTER WHICH BRAND OF VITAMINS DO I TAKE?
The type of vitamins that are the most beneficial is still somehow controversial. Some vitamin and mineral supplements are manufactured from chemicals (synthetic vitamins), while others are derived from plant material (natural vitamins). Synthetic versions of vitamins contain chemical compounds that do not occur in nature, and are not meant for human consumption nor recognized or used by our bodies as their natural counterparts (they are more likely to be excreted or stored).
Whenever possible, the natural versions of vitamins should be preferred over their synthetic forms; beta-carotene as the natural form of vitamin A, d-tocopherol as the natural form of vitamin E, methylcobalamin as the natural version of vitamin B12, and folate as the natural form of folic acid.
Our best chances to prevent chronic disease, feel vigorous and energetic, and live a long and healthy life, are to engage in healthy lifestyle practices. These include consuming a balanced, organic diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, regular physical activity, refraining from smoking and abstaining from excessive alcohol consumption.
A reasonable use of multi-vitamins and supplements is part of that equation, since they will ensure you are not falling short of the recommended doses for your body to function at its absolute peak.
Look for the natural versions of vitamins; some medical offices have already hand-picked and researched the highest quality nutritional supplements from the leading manufacturers. Do not hesitate to ask your doctor, or other healthcare provider, if you have any concerns about which key nutrients you should take.
As Benjamin Franklin so wisely said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”