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Should We Take Vitamin Supplements ?

Ever wonder about taking a supplement? You’ve been told to take that calcium supplement to help protect against osteoporosis, and yet the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has examined many studies and finds that regular doses of vitamin D (400 IU) and calcium (1,000 milligrams) doesn’t appear to prevent fractures in women after menopause who have healthy bones. What’s more, taking these supplements may raise the risk of kidney stones.

The new recommendations don’t apply to the 30% of women who have osteoporosis. They also don’t apply to anyone with low vitamin D levels or who is prone to falls. There wasn’t enough evidence to say if supplements would be helpful to men or younger women.

The findings on calcium come on the heels of two recent studies that found men and women who had high calcium levels due to supplements were more likely to die of heart disease then those who got their calcium from diet alone or who got less calcium overall. This makes calcium the latest supplement to struggle a bit when under scientific examination as other work has questioned the benefits of supplements everyone seems to be taking, things like fish oil and beta-carotene.

There’s ample research that eating fish that’s naturally rich in omega-3 fatty acids brings down the risk of heart attack and stroke. The evidence on fish oil supplements is rather mixed. A large review published in 2012 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that those taking fish oil pills didn’t have lower rates of stroke, heart attack or death compared to those who took a placebo.

Natural sources of beta-carotene include leafy greens as well as orange/yellow veggies have been associated with a lower risk of cancer and heart disease; but the supplements don’t give these benefits to healthy adults and actually raise the risk of lung cancer in smokers and those exposed to asbestos.

So should you stop taking supplements altogether?

The experts are divided, and continue to suggest that some people take supplements, depending upon individual nutritional needs. It may be that the risks appearing in the latest batch of studies don’t apply to everyone. Certainly women planning a pregnancy should be getting at least 400 micrograms of folic acid from either fortified foods or supplements. This nutrient has been conclusively shown to prevent birth defects of the spine and brain, as well as reduce the risks of autism.

Supporting the connection between folic acid and autism is some research in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found women who started taking folic acid at least a month before conception and continued for the first 8 weeks of the pregnancy had a 40% lower risk of having an autistic child than those who didn’t take folic acid. That’s important news.

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Should We Take Vitamin Supplements ? Continued…

There’s also a case to be made for vitamin B12, known to help your body make red blood cells, as well as assisting nerve and brain function are a natural part of the protein in animal products. Young adults usually get enough of this nutrient by eating meat, chicken, fish, eggs, milk and fortified cereals; while older people lose the natural ability to separate B12 from protein, which can bring on a deficiency. The Institute of Medicine suggests hat adults over 50 take B12 supplements, as they are easier to absorb.

In all the talk about supplements versus natural food sources, there are two messages people need to get, loud and clear, says Carol Haggans, a registered dietitian who stays current on the latest research for the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health.

1. Whole foods top pills just about every time. Mother Nature knows what she’s doing when she puts foods together, and the combinations and biologically active compounds have consistently shown themselves to be better for the body.

2. More isn’t better, that is, taking individual supplements at higher doses than recommended can get you into trouble, cause uncomfortable side effects and unintended harmful consequences to the body.

To your good health,

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