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Are Vitamin Supplements Necessary?

So you feel pretty good about having taken vitamins for years. Think about how healthy you are because of all those vitamin pills you swallowed. But wait. You hear a news report that says vitamin pills are a waste of money. Or someone says that most people already get enough vitamins in their diet. Worse yet, taking too much of certain kinds of vitamins might harm you!

vitamin pills in a grapefruitThe jury is still out on this. It’s complicated. And to confuse us more, many reports and studies are either done improperly or intentionally manipulated to show desired results. Supplements are a huge business. Manufacturers and distributors take in billions of dollars a year.

What we want is the best advice. If we need them, what dietary supplements do we really need? And which ones work?

Also read this article about multivitamins.

Do we need dietary supplements?
Looking deeper into this we find the most common answers somewhere in the middle. There are those who spout out quick answers like “You don’t need vitamin pills, you get enough vitamins from food”. Or “Vitamins are a waste of money”. All of those fast answers are meaningless to me. I want to see some research to back up those answers. I never hear someone say “you don’t need vitamin pills because according to a study done in… and continue to cite specifics about the study”.

You’ll often hear medical doctors say that you don’t need vitamin supplements. My own doctor recommends vitamin supplements however. He says we probably don’t get everything we need from our diet. This seems to be a reasonable recommendation.

So here are some specifics for you. I’ve done some research myself. And I’ve found some sources that I think are somewhat dependable.

There’s No Question Your Body Needs Vitamins
It’s a question of the vitamin pills you take. Do they work and are the contents what they claim. And how much do you need as supplements. Here’s a more recent article about: What are the Different Types of Vitamins Your Body Needs Regularly? It’s an informative article about the types of vitamins your body needs on a regular basis.

From the National Institute of Health
This is a long technical article. The main conclusion of this article is that most of us don’t need multivitamin and mineral supplements.
And that they are not beneficial in reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as ischemic heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Healthy individuals do not need supplements they say.
Link to the article: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3309636

From WebMD – Do Older Adults Need Vitamins, Supplements?
This article says that about half of older adults take vitamins and other supplements. But most of those can improve their diet instead to get what they need. Some research suggests that older people may need more vitamins B6, B12, and Folate. The article also suggests that vitamin D is sometimes needed as a supplement for older adults. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says older adults should pay special attention to their intake of calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, potassium, and fiber.
Link to the article: www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/news/20121130/older-adults-vitamins-supplements

From the Mayo Clinic. Written by the Mayo Clinic Staff.
I’m not sure exactly who the Mayo Clinic Staff is, but here it is…
The article points out that supplements are not intended as a replacement for food. Rather they are intended, as the name directly describes, as a supplement. Something to be added to your existing diet. Foods are complex and they offer other benefits besides the vitamins or whatever other supplements you are taking. They don’t recommend supplements to healthy people under 50. They do recommend supplements or food with iron and folic acid for pregnant women. They recommend vitamin B12 in the form of supplements or food to adults over 50 years of age. They suggest supplements for people who don’t eat well, are vegetarian, have a medical condition that affects absorption of nutrients, or have had surgery that interferes with nutrient absorption. They do not recommend mega doses of supplements.
And here’s a link to that article: www.mayoclinic.com/health/supplements/NU00198

Supplements for a Healthy Heart. Do Supplements Really Help Your Heart?
This is an article by a dietitian. It discusses many of the common supplements that people use for heart health including baby aspirin, vitamin B, vitamin C, vitamin E, fish oil supplements, Coenzyme Q-10, Niacin, Green Tea Extract, Plant Sterols and Stanols, Red Yeast Rice, and a few more. She is not strongly recommending any of these as supplements but seems to also be suggesting that many of them have been shown to be beneficial. Some good information but not strong recommendations in this article.
Link to the article: www.sparkpeople.com/resource/health_articles.asp?id=1631

And of course there are thousands more articles and studies on supplements. A lot of conflicting information and recommendations which leave us uncertain of what’s best.

Should I take vitamin supplements?
I’m sure that some of what’s in my vitamin pills do no good. But there just might be some benefit. Maybe my diet lacks some of the vitamins I get in the pills I take. So I’ll keep taking a multivitamin pill every day. But I better make sure they are good quality, otherwise it could be a total waste of money.

Should I take vitamins and other supplements to prevent heart disease?
I’ve read studies and recommendations that go both ways. However, some studies such as the Lyon Diet Heart Study and the Seven Countries Study show that there are foods, or things in food, that seem to lower heart disease risk. Lifestyle and exercise are part of the whole picture as well. The Mediterranean diet became popular as a result of the Seven Countries Study. Elements of the Mediterranean diet are still commonly recommended in the prevention of heart disease. I think most would agree that you can make a difference by eating right and adding supplements to make it easier to get what’s needed. My answer to this question is yes.

Dietary supplements often recommended for Heart Health
– Fish Oil Supplements with DHA and EPA
– Vitamins A, C, D, E, B6, B9, B12
– Make sure your vitamin E is not dl-alpha-tocopherol-acetate. Use high-gamma vitamin E instead.
– Selenium
– Enzyme CoQ-10

How to know if vitamin pills are good quality
Vitamin pills in liquid or tablet form tend to lose their potency and are difficult for your body to absorb. Capsule form is the best way to preserve the minerals and receive maximum absorption. Avoid synthetic vitamins. Use natural forms instead.

Dietary supplements and Vitamins. Brands that work.
If you take supplements that don’t work because they are poor quality, that’s obviously a waste of money. So I’ve found a website that claims to have tested many brands. They have rated them all and list them on their website. The brand of multivitamin I have been taking, Centrum, is very popular and advertised a lot on TV. But it’s rating is not all that great. The website also has a price comparison section. Here’s the website: www.multivitaminguide.org

What’s your next step?
If you’re interested in taking supplements and want to make sure you do it right, then check some of the resources mentioned above. If you want to read more about preventing heart disease there’s more on my website. And of course there are thousands of articles and studies available on the Internet.

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All information provided on this website and via email is for educational purposes with the good intention of helping you help yourself. None of the information provided is intended to diagnose or treat any condition or illness. I advise you to consult with your physician about all medical concerns and dietary methods.