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To Supplement or Not to Supplement

by Daniel on April 22nd, 2010

The battle over vitamin supplements and their effectiveness continues to rage. On one side of the fence you’ve got people who claim the USDA’s Recommended Dietary Allowances are way too low, after all, they were developed to fight scurvy over 40 years ago! The other combatants argue that the RDA’s have been continually updated every five years since the ’80s and that anything more than those levels can lead to unwanted side effects, potentially even death.

The war of words gets pretty nasty. Names like money-hungry Charlatan (after all, the vitamin supplements are the key to a $6 billion-plus industry) to Dark Ages Deceiver are often launched.

Is there any common ground? Do both sides agree on anything? Well, the answer is sort of.

The following are a few categories of people that health specialists, even those who are anti-supplement, believe should probably take vitamins:

Older Adults:
Loss of taste, smell, a lack of appetite and other assorted problems can lead to a poor diet. For those over 65, additional vitamin B-6, B-12 and D may be required since the body tends to stop absorbing these well. Women should take the above in addition to calcium.

On a Diet:
If you eat less than 1,800 calories a day or are on a diet that bans certain types of foods (such as the Dr. Atkins Diet does with carbohydrates) you should supplement. This includes vegetarians, who often need additional vitamin B-12, D and calcium.

Smokers:
Smoking reduces vitamin C and causes other problems, too. The RDA for smokers is almost double according to the USDA than for non-smokers. Warning: studies have shown that beta-carotene can increase the rate of lung cancer in smokers, so put out that cigarette.

Absorption Disorders:
People with disease of the digestive track or other similar disorders including problems with the liver, gallbladder, intestine, and pancreas should supplement (could be as much as 10 times the RDA’s depending on the severity of the problem).

Drinkers:
If you get smashed more than once a year, you could be causing problems with absorption since alcohol affects the metabolism and excretion of vitamins.

Pregnant or Breast Feeding:
Remember, you’re eating for two. There are certain must-have vitamins and minerals including: folic acid, iron and calcium.

Teenagers:
Often their eating habits are far from ideal. This is a critical time since their bodies are undergoing massive change.

Athletes:
Iron deficiency is especially common (called sports anemia). Both men and women fall prey to this. Endurance athletes are at an even higher risk. Female athletes also need to remember to take extra calcium.

Pollution:
If you live in a polluted area such as Los Angeles where you can see the air you’re breathing, taking supplements is important to help fight cancer and other diseases.

Drive Through:
If you’re well-known at the local McDonald’s there is a good chance your diet, while obviously more than 1,800 calories, isn’t providing enough overall nutrition. A vast majority of Americans don’t eat nearly enough fruits and vegetables.

What should I take? Those who are skeptical about supplements say:

Balance:
If you are going to take one, make sure it has as many vitamins (there are 13) and minerals (22) as possible so that you don’t throw your body off balance.

100% Is Enough:
They don’t recommend taking a supplement that provides more than 100% of the RDA’s. This is especially true for vitamin A, because it can be toxic at 25 times the RDA level. The same holds true for vitamin D, which is toxic at roughly 50 times the RDA guideline. More is definitely not better, with these two especially.

Time Kills:
Supplements lose their potency with age. Check the expiration date and make sure the vitamins are vacuum-sealed.

It seems like you can get a book or go to any web site to find a persuasive argument why you need massive amounts of this or that. It’s hard to tell – do they really believe what they are saying or are they trying to make a buck? You are the best judge.

It’s probably best to start slow with supplements, take them regularly for a month and then decide if they have been beneficial. One day or even a week is not going to cut it. If you fall into one the above categories (most of us do), then please get those vitamins, your body will thank you for it.

From → Supplements

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