Vitamin supplements to avoid and supplements that are OK

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Millions of people take multivitamins and other supplements, but convincing scientific evidence of any true health benefit is lacking. A new study explores why people consume nutritional supplements. 

Most people were believe supplements will improve their health, but the majority of scientific data does not support the role of dietary supplements for improving health or preventing disease.

If someone is eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and a wide variety of foods, they should be getting all the nutrition they need, according to a new report in the Journal of Internal Medicine.

When doctors recommend supplements, they most likely recommend calcium for bone health, or fish oil to lower triglycerides.

Adults who use dietary supplements tend to report healthy lifestyles, exercise more, moderate alcohol and are more likely to have never smoked.

A clear role exists for some dietary supplements, such as folic acid to reduce the risk of birth defects, calcium and vitamin D for bone health.

DMAA, dimethylamylamine, a speed-like ingredient has been found in some supplements.

It is popular among body builders and those wanting to lose weight. DMAA narrows blood vessels, and can increase blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks.

It is often “touted as natural stimulant,” but is more potent than ephedra.

Some supplements that older people take to improve their health, may actually raise their risk of death.

In a new study, multivitamins, folic acid, iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin B6 supplements all increased an older woman’s risk of dying.  The greatest risk was seen with iron supplements, according to the study in Archives of Internal Medicine.

Supplements that provide a single nutrient in isolation may be taken in high, potentially toxic doses. 
Too much vitamin B6, for example, on its own may be harmful, but the foods that contain B6, such as avocados, bananas, dried beans, and whole grains, bring other nutrients to the table that work together.

People who eat well and take supplements for a guarantee are not necessarily making a wise choice.

Some elderly people who have issues cooking or eating may need supplements, but this should be done under the guidance of their doctor.

Stop before you pop that ginseng tablet if you’re taking it to boost physical endurance. Claims that it boosts physical endurance in healthy people do not hold up.

Many vitamin D supplements may not contain what their label says they do. Vitamin D is known as the "sunshine vitamin" because it is produced in response to exposure to natural sunlight. This nutrient is also added to milk and other foods.

Exactly how much vitamin D people need has been somewhat controversial. The Institute of Medicine recommends 600 to 800 international units.

The vitamin supplement industry remains largely unregulated.

Vitamin D is fat soluble and stored in fat, so it can build up, unlike other vitamins that are water soluble.  People with liver or kidney conditions may be at higher risk for vitamin D toxicity.

If there is any question about whether you need more vitamin D or if you are on the right dose, see your doctor and have your blood levels checked.

Most people get more than enough B12 from eating meats, eggs, milk, and cheese.  Normally, the vitamin is absorbed by your digestive system, your stomach and intestines.  Vitamin B12 deficiency anemia usually happens when the digestive system is not able to absorb the vitamin.  This can happen if"

  • You have pernicious anemia
  • Very overweight
  • Lose weight
  • Problems with the way your body digests food

This anemia can also happen if you don’t eat enough foods with B12, but this is rare. The recommended daily amount of vitamin B12 is 2.4mcg. 

Vitamin B12 is found in foods from animals, such as meat, seafood, milk products, poultry, and eggs. 
B12 is also in most multivitamins.

The symptoms of B12 deficiency include:

  • Feeling weak, tired and lightheaded
  • Pale skin
  • A sore, red tongue or bleeding gums
  • Feeling sick to your stomach and losing weight
  • Diarrhea or constipation

The levels of folic acid, another B vitamin, can be checked.  People, whose vitamin B12 levels are too low, often have low levels of folic acid as well.

Taking supplements brings your level of vitamin B12 back to normal.

Your vitamin B12 supplements might be pills or injections. 

You can improve your health by eating a varied diet that includes meat, milk, cheese, and eggs, which are good sources of vitamin B12.

Suggested dosages for some common supplements; click image below for larger view


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