When it comes to vitamins and other nutritional supplements, you've got to know your ABCs -- to say nothing of your Ds, Es and Ks.Most of all, however, it's all about your SAD.SAD stands for the Standard American Diet, notes Marge Roman, who manages the Las Vegas health food store Stay Healthy.And when it comes to the SAD, she says, "it is definitely sad."In short, that's because "people don't eat enough fruits and vegetables," she says. "And they eat way too much processed food."
Hardly breaking news, but those in the health food industry aren't the only ones advocating vitamins and other nutritional supplements as a valuable addition to the standard American diet.Some doctors and dietitians also prescribe supplements for patients who need to improve their nutritional picture.For those otherwise healthy individuals who eat a healthy diet of adequate fruits and vegetables, vitamins and supplements should not be necessary, according to Dr. Patricia Meyer , a family practice physician who's an assistant professor at Henderson's Touro University Nevada. "Theoretically."In practice, however, "I don't care how hard you try, it's really difficult" to get optimum levels of vitamins and minerals through diet alone, Stay Healthy's Roman says. "The hardest thing for people is to change their eating habits."
Besides, "our food supply has lost a lot of its nutrients," says Dr. Jeffry Life, an age-management specialist whose book "The Life Plan" includes a chapter on how vitamins and supplements can help rebuild health. (You've probably seen the impressibly buff septuagenarian on billboards around town promoting his Las Vegas practice at Summerlin's Cenegenics Medical Institute.)A major factor in vitamin and mineral deficiencies: The U.S. food supply is "not nearly as nutritious as it used to be," Life contends. "Our soils are not as nutrient dense." And because people eat fast foods and highly processed foods so often, "our food today is not as nutritious as it was 25 to 50 years ago," he adds. "In a way, it's malnutrition. You can eat lots of calories and still not be getting the nutrients you need."
Little wonder, then, that Life believes a lot of people should be taking vitamins and supplements, "but they need to do it smartly."And "smartly" means in consultation with a medical professional."We recommend you discuss vitamins with your physician," Meyer says. "Always ask about vitamins and supplements."After all, "if a person's body has an adequate amount" of vitamins and nutrients, "supplements could be a problem," says Joanna Gorman , a registered dietitian and certified diabetic educator at University Medical Center's outpatient clinic.Especially when it comes to fat-soluble vitamins -- A, D, E and K -- that are stored in body fat. (As opposed to water-soluble vitamins, such as B and C, which are excreted in urine when they reach excessive levels.)
Too much vitamin A could cause liver toxicity, according to Meyer. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association focused on potential prostate cancer risks among those with an excess of vitamin E, she adds. And "vitamin D can make calcium go to high."Yet Life has found that virtually every one of his patients proves "either deficient or has insufficient levels of vitamin D," adding that it's one of the supplements he recommends to all patients."A lot of doctors are now checking vitamin D levels," Gorman says.
In addition, "everyone needs a good multivitamin," Life says, adding that "everyone needs to be on antioxidants," along with such phytonutrients as vitamin E, vitamin C and selenium.Other beneficial supplements he recommends: coenzyme Q10, which he says is "super important" for muscle function, especially skeletal and cardiac muscle, along with milk thistle (which helps liver function) and vitamin C.(Although, once you already have a cold, increasing your vitamin C intake won't help you recover any faster.)In any case, patients definitely need to talk to their doctors if they have a chronic illness, he stresses.
Meyer echoes that view, maintaining that certain populations do need supplements. Elderly patients, for example, are often deficient in B and D vitamins, she explains, while pregnant women, or women of child-bearing age, should take a multivitamin -- especially one with folic acid.Those who have had bariatric surgery also should take a multivitamin, she adds.At Stay Healthy, Roman has a "top five" supplement regimen she recommends to customers: a good multivitamin, plus additional vitamin D, fish oil, a good probiotic (or, as she describes it, "healthy bacteria") and, for the vast majority of people, a digestive enzyme that helps break food down, alleviating symptoms associated with everything from indigestion to constipation.
But Roman also asks customers about their special health conditions and prescription drugs they take for those conditions because, she says, mixing pharmaceuticals and nutritional supplements can be risky.
The general rule, Roman explains, is not to take a nutritional supplement if it does the same things as prescription medication. (For example, if you're taking Lipitor or another statin drug for high cholesterol, you shouldn't take such nonprescription alternatives as niacin or red yeast rice.)Patients should keep the conversation open with their physicians when it comes to vitamins and other supplements, she suggests. "With some old-school" doctors, "basically, the answer is no," when it comes to vitamins and supplements, Roman says. More and more doctors, however, are more open to it, Roman adds. "Some believe in it completely." But if you're planning to add vitamins and other nutritional supplements to your health regimen, you also need to do your homework.
"So many consumers do not even know the background" of the supplements they're taking, Gorman says. "In general, people are not really as savvy as they should be."Indeed, there's a ton of misinformation out there, Life says. And that includes many studies promoting supplements that "are based on anecdotal events and not based on good science."As a general rule, "any time you see a company promoting a particular supplement," he says, "you need to look at the science behind it."
By Carol Cling
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Posted: Nov. 27, 2011