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Supplements 101 - Ladue News: Health-wellness

Supplements 101

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Posted: Thursday, November 10, 2011 4:45 pm

Here we go again. We think we’re doing something good for ourselves, and then the research muddies the waters. In this case, the subject is vitamins.

The conclusions of a study of more than 38,000 older women in Iowa, published in the Oct. 10 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, state: “In older women, several commonly used dietary vitamin and mineral supplements may be associated with increased total mortality risk; this association is strongest with supplemental iron.”

Does this mean we should toss our daily multivitamins? Not necessarily.

“The supplements in the study found to be associated with increased mortality included multivitamins, folic acid, vitamin B-6, iron, zinc, copper and magnesium. It may be that the increased mortality seen in women taking vitamins was due to the fact that women who believe or have been correctly warned that their health is at risk are more likely to take vitamins— and then, despite the vitamins, the warnings come true,” notes Dr. James Shoemaker, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Saint Louis University. “Or, the increased mortality may be due to the toxicity of vitamins themselves, although vitamins A and D and the minerals iron and selenium are the most toxic, and, of these, only iron is on the list above.”

In fact, we’re already ingesting plenty of dietary supplements through fortified cereals and other foods, iodized salt and fluorinated water, Shoemaker adds. Beyond that, he suggests taking an inexpensive, over-the-counter multivitamin as directed only if your diet lacks fresh, unprocessed foods.

“Due to how our food has been so processed and manipulated, it’s lost so many nutrients,” says Jaime Rothermich, a registered dietitian and director of nutrition service and clinic supervisor at HammerBodies. When taking a multivitamin, “the body is probably going to try to extract what it needs from that. So from a population standpoint, my concern when it comes to multivitamins isn’t that the body doesn’t need it, but how that multivitamin is made,” he says.

Rothermich notes that multivitamins may be beneficial when they are high-quality but warns against taking mega-doses above and beyond the recommended dietary allowance of each substance. “Some vitamins in high amounts can become toxic to the system,” he says.

Rothermich is a proponent of simplicity in nutrition. He recommends plenty of whole foods that contain nutrients, which he says are readily broken down and used by the body. Many supplements, on the other hand, are condensed and may contain chemicals and preservatives.

In choosing a supplement, however, Shoemaker doesn’t split hairs. “There is no evidence that ‘organic’ nutrients are any different than synthetic ones. The chemicals are identical,” he says. “Human patients have been maintained intravenously on pure synthetic chemicals for years at a time through a treatment called ‘total parenteral nutrition,’ so the synthetic chemicals must work.”

Sorting out the facts may require expert help. “The best way to go is to find a professional who is highly recommended, and then trust that professional and his or her education,” Rothermich says. “A lot of people go to supplement superstores, and the people who are working there have no knowledge whatsoever except what that store has taught them. It can become very misleading.” He concludes that the old adage ‘buyer beware’ applies to the supplement market. The safest and most effective approach may just be a healthy diet.

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