January 6, 2005
Keep it simple. When it comes to taking vitamins, that’s all you need to do. Rather than spending hundreds of dollars on individual types of vitamins and taking multiple pills a day, stick to one multivitamin with mineral supplements — and that’s only if you need to take a vitamin.
That’s the advice of Paul Lucas, administrative director of Lima Memorial Hospital in Ohio.
Your best bet? Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables instead of loading up on dietary supplements.
"The basic truth out there is one of common sense," Lucas said. "Eat right and use a simple multivitamin, and that’s pretty much it."
Some people take extra vitamin C to avoid colds. Others take vitamin E with hopes of preventing heart disease. There are many vitamins that the health-conscious often associate with any number of health benefits, but Lucas, who is also a professor of clinical pharmacy at Ohio Northern University, said there’s no proof out there to support such claims.
Taking some vitamins — such as vitamin D to prevent osteoporosis and folic acid to prevent birth defects during pregnancy — does have direct health benefits, but taking vitamins won’t give you more energy or make you feel better unless you have a deficiency that the vitamin is making up for.
Over the years, people have become more and more focused on the health benefits of vitamins because it’s easy to do. Staying away from cigarettes and alcohol, exercising and eating right for better health can be a challenge. Taking a few pills every day seems like an easy fix, but Lucas said the money used for most vitamins could be better spent.
And if you eat five to six servings of vegetables a day and exercise, chances are you don’t even need a multivitamin. "For the mainstream person, if you’re healthy and doing well you probably don’t need a supplement," Lucas said. "It wouldn’t hurt them to do it (take a multivitamin), it will just cost them a little bit of money."
Patients also want to have more control over their health care, said David Hartzell, a doctor of pharmacy at St. Rita’s Medical Center in Lima. Vitamins and other supplements seemingly give them that, he said. It’s something they can control and something they don’t need a doctor’s prescription to buy.
Like Lucas, Hartzell doesn’t recommend going to the store and buying the most expensive vitamins you can find. Vitamins should only be part of your shopping list if you know you don’t eat right or if you have a deficiency.
Vitamins aren’t a cure for anything, Hartzell said, and people often tend to overdo it when it comes to the amount of vitamins they take.
"They see it as a miracle drug," Hartzell said. "When all they really need to do is focus on eating right."
Taking too many vitamins can have a negative effect, Lucas said. High levels of certain vitamins can lead to problems, something consumers too often don’t realize. Beyond that, some over-the-counter supplements can be harmful when they interact with certain prescription medications or can have negative effects on surgeries. If you take vitamins, let your doctor know before you get a new prescription or schedule a surgery.
For people who know that they don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, make sure you talk with your doctor before walking down the vitamin aisle. There are hundreds of options on store shelves and a physician can help you decipher what will work best for you. Talking to a pharmacist once you get to the store can also be helpful — that is, after all, why they’re there, Lucas said.
When looking for a multivitamin, don’t assume anything and know that if something sounds too good to be true, it most likely is, according to a Food and Drug Administration vitamin tip sheet on its Web site.
Lucas also cautions people to be leery of infomercials and other advertisements that make outrageous claims — the vitamin world is part of a business and people are out to make money. Manufacturers can make such claims without FDA authorization. The FDA oversees safety, manufacturing and product information on dietary supplements, according to the FDA Web site.
For nearly 20 years, Lucas took extra vitamins E and C. He, like many others, hoped they would help him lead a healthy, more energized life. But he doesn’t take those anymore.
To him, there just isn’t enough information to prove that taking these vitamins make a difference for the average person who eats a balanced diet and has an active lifestyle.
"They’re almost religious about it," Lucas said of people who take many vitamins each day. "My viewpoint is, you might be right, but there’s no proof that you are."
Look to foods before vitamins
Foods that have some of the vitamins you need:
Folate or folic acid: Eat cereal, grains, dark, leafy vegetables and whole-grain breads. Recommended daily allowance for adults is 400 micrograms. Helps prevent birth defects during pregnancy.
Niacin: Eat meat, fish, poultry and bread products. Recommended daily allowance for adults is between 14 and 16 milligrams depending on sex and age. Can help reduce cholesterol levels in the blood.
Riboflavin: Eat milk, bread products and fortified cereals. Recommended daily allowance for adults is 1.1 to 1.3 milligrams depending on sex and age. Can help with energy levels and mood.
Thiamin: Eat whole-grain products, bread and bread products and ready-to-eat cereals. Recommended daily allowance for adults is about 1.2 milligrams. Helps with nervous system functioning.
Vitamin A: Eat dairy products, fish, fruits and leafy vegetables. Recommended daily allowance for adults is between 700 and 900 micrograms. Helps with vision and bone growth.
Vitamin B6: Eat fortified cereals and organ meats. Recommended daily allowance for adults is between 1.3 and 1.5 milligrams a day, depending on sex and age. Might help lower the risk of heart disease.
Vitamin B12: Eat meat, fish and poultry. Recommended daily allowance for adults is about 2.4 micrograms. Helps with nervous system functioning.
Vitamin C: Eat citrus fruits, juices, potatoes and vegetables. Recommended daily allowance for adults is between 75 and 90 milligrams a day, depending on sex and age. Helps with formation of bones and teeth.
Vitamin D: Eat fish, eggs and milk. Recommended daily allowance for adults is between 5 micrograms and 15 micrograms a day depending on sex and age. Promotes bone health and helps prevent against osteoporosis.
Vitamin E: Eat grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables and meats. Recommended daily allowance for adults is about 15 milligrams. May help fight some forms of cancer, but that is still being studied.