Americans have a love affair with Vitamin Supplements. Any given day of the week, you will see TV ads, print media, and mail coupons for vitamins--for children, adults, and seniors. There are even vitamin supplements for pets. Americans spend billions of dollars each year to swallow vitamins in pill and liquid forms. Yet, according to the Mayo Clinic, can you skip your daily servings of fruits and vegetables and take a vitamin and mineral supplement instead? Unfortunately, no. Vitamins and minerals are substances your body needs in small but steady amounts for normal growth, function and health. Together, vitamins and minerals are called micronutrients. Your body can't make most micronutrients, so you must get them from the foods you eat or, in some cases, from dietary supplements. Dietary supplements can complement your regular diet if you have trouble getting enough nutrients. But they aren't meant to be food substitutes. Dietary supplements can't replicate all of the nutrients and benefits of whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables. So depending on your situation and your eating habits, a daily dietary supplement may not be worth the expense.
According to Reuters, more than 30% of multivitamins tested recently by ConsumerLab.com contained significantly more or less of an ingredient than claimed, or were contaminated with lead, the company reports. ConsumerLab.com, based in White Plains, New York, is privately held and provides consumer information and independent evaluations of products that affect health and nutrition. According to the company, it is neither owned by nor has a financial interest in any companies that make, distribute or sell consumer products. And, several multivitamin products tested, including three for children, exceeded tolerable upper limits established by the Institute of Medicine for ingredients such as vitamin A, folic acid, niacin and zinc, according to the report posted on http://www.consumerlab.com/.
Also, according to the report, for example, the Institute of Medicine sets a recommended daily allowance of 1,300 international units of vitamin A for children ages 4 to 8 years and an upper tolerable limit of 3,000 IU. However, one multivitamin tested provided 5,000 IU of vitamin A.
In the short term, too much vitamin A may cause nausea and blurred vision, and, in the long-term, may lead to bone softening and liver problems. Upper tolerable limits for niacin and zinc were also exceeded by some of the supplements for young children tested. Excess niacin may cause skin tingling and flushing and high levels of zinc may cause immune deficiency and anemia.
Tests turned up problems with some men's multivitamin products as well. Two of three men's multivitamins failed to pass testing. One contained too much folic acid, which may increase the risk of prostate cancer, while another was contaminated with lead. Among four women's multivitamins tested, one provided only 66% of its claimed vitamin A; one of five seniors' multivitamins selected contained only 44% of its vitamin A; and among three prenatal vitamins, one was short on vitamin A. Two out of five general multivitamins were short on ingredients: one provided only 50 percent of its claimed folic acid and the other was missing 30% of its calcium. A vitamin water tested by ConsumerLab.com had 15 times its stated amount of folic acid, so drinking one bottle would exceed the tolerable limit for adults; less than half a bottle would put children over the limit, the company warns on its Web site.
According to the Mayo Clinic, whole foods are your best sources of vitamins and minerals. They offer three main benefits over dietary supplements:
--Greater nutrition. Whole foods are complex, containing a variety of the micronutrients your body needs — not just one. An orange, for example, provides vitamin C plus some beta carotene, calcium and other nutrients. A vitamin C supplement lacks these other micronutrients.
--Essential fiber. Whole foods provide dietary fiber. Fiber, as part of a healthy diet, can help prevent certain diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and it can also help manage constipation.
--Protective substances. Whole foods contain other substances recognized as important for good health. Fruits and vegetables, for example, contain naturally occurring food substances called phytochemicals, which may help protect you against cancer, heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Many are also good sources of antioxidants — substances that slow down oxidation, a natural process that leads to cell and tissue damage.
According to KidsHealth.org, vitamins and minerals are substances that are found in foods we eat. Your body needs them to work properly, so you grow and develop just like you should. So, when it comes to vitamins, each one has a special role to play. For example:
--Vitamin D in milk helps your bones.
--Vitamin A in carrots helps you see at night.
--Vitamin C in oranges helps your body heal if you get a cut.
--B vitamins in leafy green vegetables help your body make protein and energy.
There are two types of vitamins according to KidsHealth: fat soluble and water soluble. When you eat foods that contain fat-soluble vitamins, the vitamins are stored in the fat tissues in your body and in your liver. They wait around in your body fat until your body needs them.
1.) Fat-soluble vitamins are happy to stay stored in your body for awhile — some stay for a few days, some for up to 6 months! Then, when it's time for them to be used, special carriers in your body take them to where they're needed. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are all fat-soluble vitamins.
2.) Water-soluble vitamins are different. When you eat foods that have water-soluble vitamins, the vitamins don't get stored as much in your body. Instead, they travel through your bloodstream. Whatever your body doesn't use comes out when you urinate. These kinds of vitamins need to be replaced often because they don't stick around. This crowd of vitamins includes vitamin C and the big group of B vitamins — B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), niacin, B6 (pyridoxine), folic acid, B12 (cobalamine), biotin, and pantothenic acid.
According to the Mayo Clinic, if you're generally healthy and eat a wide variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean meats and fish, you likely don't need dietary supplements. However, if you can't or don't eat enough healthy foods, or can't or don't eat a variety of healthy foods, you may need a daily dietary supplement. Dietary supplements may be appropriate if you:
--Don't eat well or consume less than 1,600 calories a day.
--Are a vegetarian and don't substitute or complement your diet appropriately.
--Are pregnant, trying to get pregnant or breast-feeding.
--Are a woman who experiences heavy bleeding during your menstrual period.
--Are a postmenopausal woman.
--Have a medical condition that affects how your body absorbs, uses or excretes nutrients, such as chronic diarrhea, food allergies, food intolerance or a disease of the liver, gallbladder, intestines or pancreas.
--Have had surgery on your digestive tract and are not able to digest and absorb nutrients properly.
Talk to your doctor or a dietitian about which supplements and what doses might be appropriate for you. Be sure to ask about possible side effects and interactions with other medications.
Your body is one powerful machine, capable of doing all sorts of things by itself. But one thing it can't do is make vitamins according to KidsHealth. That's where food comes in. Your body is able to get the vitamins it needs from the foods you eat because different foods contain different vitamins. The key is to eat different foods to get an assortment of vitamins. Though some children take a daily vitamin, most kids don't need one if they're eating a variety of healthy foods. Here is the benefit of each of the alphabet vitamins A through K:
--Vitamin A: This vitamin plays a really big part in eyesight. It's great for night vision. Vitamin A helps you see in color, too, from the brightest yellow to the darkest purple. In addition, it helps you grow properly and aids in healthy skin. Foods like liver and dark green leafy vegetables are good natural sources.
--Vitamin B: The B vitamins are important in metabolic activity — this means that they help make energy and set it free when your body needs it. So the next time you're running a race, thank those B vitamins. This group of vitamins is also involved in making red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout your body. Every part of your body needs oxygen to work properly, so these B vitamins have a really important job. Great sources include dairy, eggs, fish, and peas.
--Vitamin C: This vitamin is important for keeping body tissues, such as gums and muscles in good shape. C is also key if you get a cut or wound because it helps you heal. This vitamin also helps your body resist infection. This means that even though you can't always avoid getting sick, vitamin C makes it a little harder for your body to become infected with an illness. Citrus fruits, tomatoes, and kiwi fruite are excellent sources for this vitamin.
--Vitamin D: No bones about it . . . vitamin D is the vitamin you need for strong bones! It's also great for forming strong teeth. Vitamin D even lends a hand to an important mineral — it helps your body absorb the amount of calcium it needs. Egg yolks, milk fortified with vitamin D, and liver are great natural sources.
--Vitamin E: Everybody needs E. This hard-working vitamin maintains a lot of your body's tissues, like the ones in your eyes, skin, and liver. It protects your lungs from becoming damaged by polluted air. And, it is important for the formation of red blood cells. Great sources for this vitamin include whole grains, leafy green vegetables, sardines, and egg yolks.
--Vitamin K: Vitamin K is the clotmaster! Remember the last time you got a cut? Your blood did something special called clotting. This is when certain cells in your blood act like glue and stick together at the surface of the cut to help stop the bleeding. You can find this vitamin in dairy products, broccoli, and soybean oil.
If you decide to take a vitamin or mineral supplement, according to the Mayo Clinic, consider these factors:
--Check the supplement label. Read labels carefully. Product labels can tell you what the active ingredient or ingredients are, which nutrients are included, the serving size — for example, capsule, packet or teaspoonful — and the amount of nutrients in each serving.
--Avoid supplements that provide 'megadoses.' In general, choose a multivitamin-mineral supplement that provides about 100 percent of the Daily Value (DV) of all the vitamins and minerals, rather than one which has, for example, 500 percent of the DV for one vitamin and only 20 percent of the DV for another. The exception to this is calcium. You may notice that calcium-containing supplements don't provide 100 percent of the DV. If they did, the tablets would be too large to swallow. More importantly, divide your calcium intake throughout the
--Look for 'USP' on the label. This ensures that the supplement meets the standards for strength, purity, disintegration and dissolution established by the testing organization U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP).
--Look for expiration dates. Dietary supplements can lose potency over time, especially in hot and humid climates. If a supplement doesn't have an expiration date, don't buy it. If your supplements have expired, discard them.
--Store all vitamin and mineral supplements safely. Store dietary supplements in a dry, cool place. Avoid hot, humid storage locations, such as in the bathroom.
--Store supplements out of sight and away from children. Put supplements in a locked cabinet or other secure location. Don't leave them on the counter or rely on child-resistant packaging.
Vitamins are a vital part of a daily regimen by eating a good diet. Eat foods that will give them to you naturally, and supplement when recommended. Don't abuse vitamin supplements, as too much of even a good thing can hurt you. Follow a healthy routine including eating balanced meals and exercise. Taking vitamins can help, but be careful not to overdo it.
Until next time. Let me know what you think.