Are Vitamins and Supplements Worth Taking? from Are Vitamins and Supplements Worth Taking?

Are Vitamins and Supplements Worth Taking?

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Are Vitamins and Supplements Worth Taking?

Dietary supplements are usually vitamins, minerals, herbs and extracts in the form of tablets, capsules or powders. Americans have been taking them since the early 1940s, when the first such products became available, the National Institutes of Health says. Now, more than a third of the people in the country use them. Many once-daily multivitamins contain all or most of the recognized vitamins and minerals, generally at levels close to the daily value, but people also eat foods that contain these nutrients, increasing the risk of overdose. The side effects can vary from mild to severe.

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Food always comes first

Real healthy food has a variety of vitamins and minerals that supplements lack, according to the American Heart Association. Some of them include bioactive compounds and dietary fiber that typically aren’t found in the refined forms sold in tablets. Also, if people take them on an empty stomach, some of the fat-soluble vitamins won’t be absorbed as well.

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Who should take them?

If you eat a variety of healthy foods, chances are you won’t need supplements because you’re already getting everything you need. There’s little evidence that  supplements can reverse the course of any chronic disease, so don’t take them if this is your goal, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  Dietary supplements could be beneficial for pregnant women who need iron, breastfeeding moms who need Vitamin D for their infants, and vegetarians most of whom are vitamin B12 deficient, according to a study, and people on a low-calorie or poor diet.

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Effectiveness

Doctors don’t dispute that some supplements are worth taking, but medical analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine have shown that the majority of those sold in stores have no benefits. Multivitamins don't decrease the risk of cancer or cardiovascular disease. There is also little evidence, according to Harvard School of Public Health, that antioxidants protect against cancer. Also, vitamin C does nothing to prevent the cold or flu, according to separate studies.

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Probiotics

Probiotics help balance the good and bad bacteria in the body.  People who are looking to support immune and digestive health, or have recently taken antibiotics should consider a probiotic supplement, according to Vitamin Shoppe Nutritionist Brian Tanzer, MS, CNS. You may also want to take a probiotic if you are chronically stressed, have a diet high in refined sugar and processed carbohydrates, and get sick often.

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Taking too much

Depending on what supplement you’re taking, many of which are sold over the counter, overdosing is not unusual.  Also, some ingredients found in dietary supplements are added to a growing number of foods, including breakfast cereals and beverages, according to the NIH. You may be getting more of these ingredients than you think, increase the risks for bad side effects.

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Side effects

The build-up can cause nausea, headaches, feeling sick, diarrhea, muscle weakness, and stomach cramps. Too much selenium could result in hair loss and some nerve damage. Lack of iron is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world. Taking high doses (over 20 mg) can also lead to constipation and vomiting. Very high doses of iron can be fatal, particularly if taken by children. Too much iron or Vitamin A can cause liver damage, heart failure, osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, and hypothyroidism, according to the Iron Disorders Institute.

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They don’t cure diseases

Promises for quick cures or solutions are easy to believe, but be doubtful of any supplement claiming to shrink tumors, cure insomnia, cure impotency, treat Alzheimer's disease, or prevent severe memory loss, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says. “Under federal law, dietary supplements can't be promoted for the treatment of a disease because they aren't proven to be safe and effective.” You won’t lose weight if you take supplements but eat junk food and don’t exercise. In fact, a recent study found banned ingredients in weight loss supplements.

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They are not regulated as drugs

Supplements are not regulated in the same way pharmaceuticals are, raising red flags for patient safety and health. The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia stopped recommending them in 2013, according to local media, because the doctors could not get from the certificate of analysis that shows the product was independently tested and what's on the label is in the bottle.

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When are they discouraged?

“Women past menopause and men need a very low iron or no iron supplement,” according to WebMD. “Women should be discouraged from getting excess vitamin A as it may cause birth defects if they become pregnant.” Also, people should limit supplemental folic acid to 1,000 micrograms a day because higher doses can increase the chance of developing nerve damage. Grains can be highly fortified with folic acid, with upwards of 100 percent of the daily value in one serving. Don’t take antioxidant vitamin supplements such as A, C and E, the American Heart Association says. “Scientific evidence does not suggest these can eliminate the need to reduce blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol or stop smoking.”

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Multivitamin or individual supplements?

Which kind of vitamin people should take depends on why they need supplements. Single vitamin or mineral tablets are better if a person has a specific nutrient deficiency. If that’s not the case, then taking multivitamins may be a better idea because individual supplements put you at a greater risk of overdose, according to the Multivitamin Guide. Also, they usually cost less.

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Maximum effect

Not all dietary supplements should be taken in the morning, before or after a meal. As is the case with most things in life, timing is crucial. A general guide recommends taking multivitamins, Vitamin B and C supplements, individual minerals, protein powder, and iron supplements before you eat. Safe tablets with vitamins A, D, E, K, iodine, herbs to help digestion, and oil-based nutrients for after meals.

Are Vitamins and Supplements Worth Taking?