Last edited on October 24, 2012.
I'm revealing some lesser known things about vitamin and mineral supplements. You should not fear taking supplements! They are more helpful than harmful. That being said, make sure you talk to your doctor, take appropriate blood tests if necessary, do your own research concerning supplements, and always remember, balance is key. Do not overdo supplements...more is not always better, in fact, more can create an imbalance and can be dangerous.
In 2002, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article by two Harvard researchers . They recommend that "all adults take one multivitamin daily." In their summary, they state that a large proportion of the general population has less-than-optimal intakes of a number of vitamins, putting them at risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and osteoporosis.
Here's my answer when someone says that we can get all we need from food (Dr. Travis!):
--Farmland soil across this country is depleted of selenium, zinc, magnesium, calcium and other minerals. This means our food contains less of these nutrients.
--A percentage of vitamins and minerals are destroyed by cooking, heating, processing, refining, exposure to air/oxygen, exposure to light, lengthy storage and shipping process, blanching of frozen and canned foods, etc.
--Physical, mental, and emotional stress can deplete certain vitamins and minerals from your body, Vitamin C, B Vitamins, and magnesium, for example.
--Environmental pollutants (air pollution, pesticides, car exhaust, etc.) can deplete the body of certain nutrients, especially Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and magnesium.
--Prescription drugs, over the counter medications, alcohol, cigarettes, caffiene, and illicit drugs also deplete the body of a multitude of nutrients.
--Many women as well as people on diets do not eat enough so that they get the required amount of nutrients daily.
--As people age, their bodies have a harder time absorbing certain vitamins and minerals, Vitamin B-12 and zinc are two that I can think of right now.
--And lastly, most Americans do not eat a "well-balanced diet." A majority of Americans do not eat the government's recommended number of fruits and vegetables--not even close! And many people in this country eat processed grains as opposed to whole grains. People are also over-consuming caffiene and sugar, which depletes the body of minerals, especially.
A study showed that non-smokers who supplemented with beta carotene decreased their risk for lung cancer, but beta carotene supplementation in smokers increased their risk of lung cancer. Avoid this supplement if you are a smoker. Beta carotene in foods did not increase the risk.
A safer, well-rounded supplement is called "food carotene" supplements. This includes a more balanced supply of carotenoids, including alpha and beta carotenes, cryptoxanthin, lutein, zeazanthin, and lycopene.
Take no more than 300 mg of Vitamin B-6. More than that can cause nervous system problems (tingling extremities, etc), which is totally reversible when stopped. If you stop 300 mg suddenly, you can have a rebound effect and feel tired for a while.
Too much folic acid supplementation can give a false postive B-12 reading, so you'll never know if you're dangerously low in B-12. A safer supplement is a whole food multivitamin that contains folate, the natural food form.
The most popular form of Vitamin C, ascorbic acid can adversely affect the delicate alkaline/acid balance in the body. Mineral ascorbates, such as calcium ascorbate is easier on the stomach and is non-acidic. Ascorbyl palmitate is the fat soluble form of Vitamin C. I use this form, plus calcium ascorbate.
Vitamin C plus bioflavonoids taken together are proven to be more absorbable than Vitamin C alone.
If you supplment with Vitamin D, I recommend that you get your Vitamin D levels checked to see if you are taking the proper amount. I recently got my test results back, and I was within the normal range. I don't go out into the sun much, and I do take a supplement, so I now know that my supplement is working; it's not a cheapy supplement filled with nothing!
Most studies that have found Vitamin E supplements to be unsafe used the synthetic form in their studies. Within the past decade, the natural form has become the one to seek out. Natural E (d- form) is the most absorbable and potent form. Mixed tocopherols are the most complete formulation and the most effective. So look for those words on the bottle. Avoid the dl- form! That's synthetic. I do not need extra Vitamin E because I eat nuts, whole grains, and legumes every day. There's enough Vitamin E in my whole food multivitamin.
BEWARE! Do Not Megadose! These Common Supplements are Toxic and Dangerous in High Amounts:
Cheap Vitamins are not as Effective! You get what you pay for.
A lot of commercial multivitamins sold in grocery stores and drugstores contain the cheapest versions of the vitamins/minerals--in the least absorbable forms, and are full of preservatives, sugars, colors, and unnecessary extra ingredients like cornstarch, maltodextrin, gelatin, polysorbate 80, soy, wheat, fish, the list goes on and on. Look for a multivitamin without these added ingredients.
Be wary of vitamin companies that make outrageous claims! Even a claim of "Will give you tons and tons of energy to get through the day" can be misleading...no vitamin or mineral can "give you energy" (calories in food give you energy, sleeping well re-energizes you). Most likely, the product contains guarana extract, ginseng and/or caffeine, so please read labels carefully! These unnecessary ingredients could cause a bad reaction. Stay away from colors, preservatives, fillers, and caffiene in your vitamin supplements.
Look for smaller, reputable companies. Look at the ingredient list. There should be only a few ingredients on the label, and you should be able to pronounce them! Look to see if they have a label that says, "No preservatives, artificial colors, soy, fish, wheat, etc." Also, as I've mentioned in my previous post, look for whole food vitamins made from real food. Your body recognizes the ingredients from whole food vitamins better, and are therefore more absorbable.
Here's a great resource to check out annually. It's the Best of Supplements Award Winners, where reputable supplements are highlighted as being the best on the market: http://www.betternutrition.com/best-of-supplements-2011/features/featurearticles/1136/
Poor absorption (found in most multivitamins):
Calcium: Calcium carbonate (take with food for better absorption)
Magnesium: Magnesium oxide
Zinc: Zinc oxide
Best absorption (may have to get these separately):
Calcium: Calcium citrate (not necessary to take with food)
Magnesium: Magnesium citrate, magnesium aspartate, magnesium malate
Zinc: Zinc gluconate
Check to see if your supplement is working.
It's hard to know if your vitamins are preventing cancer, are anti-aging, are preventing heart disease, BUT if you are taking a supplement for a certain condition, is that condition improving?
For example, I'll occasionally take beta carotene supplements if I have a bad acne breakout. I usually get the Vitamin Shoppe brand at their store. My acne clears up within days! Once, though, I picked up some beta carotene at the grocery store and took it. A few days later, my acne had NOT cleared up! It might have even gotten worse. Not all supplements have what they say on the bottle. What I realized is that this particular brand at the grocery store was cheap and deceptive!
I also take magnesium for my muscle spasms as well as tachycardia episodes. I ask myself, is my pain reduced? YES! Have I had a tachycardia episode since on these supplements? NO! Okay, the supplement is working.
I also take zinc gluconate supplements and Vitamin C. I KNOW they are working because I haven't had a cold, flu, or bacterial infection in THREE YEARS! Both are extremely important when it comes to having a proper immune function.
I've been taking a high potency B Complex supplement for PMS, stress, and anxiety. Am I having less PMS symptoms, can I handle stress better, am I not anxious anymore? I can answer YES, so I know my supplement is working.
There's a story in my magazine article about a doctor who recommended Vitamin D for his prostate cancer patient. The doctor was checking the patient's Vitamin D level every three months, and the patient's numbers were going up nicely. Then suddenly, the test results showed a steep drop in his Vitamin D levels. The doctor asked the patient about this. The patient said that he had gotten a "great deal" online, on some different Vitamin D supplements. Sometimes a "great deal" can translate into a not-so-potent supplement. Be careful about where you purchase your supplements. For the vitamins and minerals that can be tested, be sure to get tested to see if you are buying legitimate supplements and that they are working!
Vitamin and Mineral Supplement Resources:
WholeHeathMD (Includes a complete list of supplements, click on one that interests you to find out what the supplement is used for, how much to take, and any known toxicity):
WebMd (click on any article of interest to the left of the page):