Panel says vitamins may not be so helpful

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    By Amber Dutton

    You can never have too much of a good thing – unless that thing is vitamins, apparently.

    Researchers say Americans could be missing the mark by taking too many vitamin supplements in their quest to be healthy.

    “Half of American adults are taking multivitamins and minerals and the bottom line is that we don”t know for sure that they”re benefiting from them,” said Dr. J. Michael McGinnis, a senior scholar with the Institute of Medicine in a press release.

    Due to the rising concern of the safety and effectiveness of multivitamins, the National Institute of Health called for an independent panel of specialists, led by McGinnis, to research common beliefs and practices, recent studies regarding certain vitamin and mineral levels and their effects on the body.

    “It wasn”t a brand new study in itself. What they did was a review of previous studies to see where we stand and what we need to know more about,” said Kelli Marciel, media contact for the institute.

    She said the panel attended a conference where specialists from all over the nation and the United Kingdom presented studies, findings and opinions. Public discussions and panel deliberations were also held throughout the two-day convention.

    The 13-member panel consisted of experts with backgrounds in nutrition, biostatistics, biochemistry, toxicology, geriatric medicine, family medicine and pediatrics, cancer prevention and consumer protection, among other fields.

    Their study found multivitamins/minerals (MVMs) were the most commonly used and, while in recent years the use of multivitamins and fortified foods has skyrocketed among the healthy and affluent, the people most likely to have vitamin deficiencies were the least likely to use multivitamins.

    “Though health-conscious individuals are likely to be focused on ensuring that they meet the recommendations for essential nutrients, the combined effects of eating fortified foods, taking MVMs, and consuming single vitamins or minerals in large doses, may lead them to unwittingly exceed the Upper Levels of nutrients, which can be harmful, ” stated a press release from NIH.

    Marciel added, “There is an assumption of safety because most of these substances originate in food-so they must be safe.”

    She said concerns arise because the pills contain an amount of multivitamins that greatly exceeds the recommended daily intake, and therefore can be harmful.

    Other recent studies the NIH panel reviewed showed when the optimal level of a vitamin is exceeded, nutrients can be discarded through the urinary tract, can cancel out the effects of other vitamins and minerals or can even become toxic.

    Lora Brown, BYU associate professor in the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Science, explained how nutrients can become toxic.

    “Some specific nutrients are toxic if you get too much of them, so nutrients – as good and as important as they are – cannot be taken in an unlimited amount with out possible problems,” she said.

    The NIH panel concluded while current studies have provided a glimpse, more studies were needed to accurately assess whether supplements actually make up the difference for vitamin deficiencies and whether or not MVMs can be used to prevent chronic diseases.

    Here at BYU, students have also turned to multivitamins to supplement their busy lifestyles and sometimes-sporadic eating habits. However, when comparing the student use of supplements to the average person, Brown said she believes college students are about the same as the rest of the population.

    Brown also said students should think of food before supplements.

    “The irony is, if people would follow the current dietary guidelines and follow the My Pyramid Guidelines, they would get all the vitamins and minerals they need without taking supplements,” Brown said. “If they pay even a minimal amount of attention to what they are eating and eat them in minimally processed forms, they will probably be all right.”

    Brown”s final piece of advice: “Don”t spend money on some supplement, spend it on good food!”

    *According to the panel, only a few supplements have been proven to be disease-preventing. The group collectively advises:

    * Women of childbearing age should take folic acid supplements because it can prevent spina bifida and other related birth defects.

    * Postmenopausal women should take calcium and vitamin D together to protect bones.

    People who suffer from age-related macular degeneration, an ultimately blinding disease, should take antioxidants and zinc, which may slow down the disease”s effects.

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