Are you tired when waking and totally exhausted in the evening? Wish you had more energy to tackle endless to-do lists? Annoyed by brain fog? Those are pretty common complaints from busy parents. We have all searched for a pill or drink to make us feel better. Dr. Carrie Holland has offered to help us sort through the debate on vitamins and supplements. Enjoy! -Dr. Julia
Do you take a vitamin or supplement? If so, why? Maybe you saw a commercial promoting the benefit of a certain supplement to make you smarter or stronger. Perhaps a friend takes a supplement and recommends it for thick and shiny hair or wrinkle-free skin. Or, did your physician advise you to start a vitamin to prevent a disease? If you are one of nearly half of the US population who takes a supplement, there may be several reasons that led you to add this to your daily routine. Regardless of what prompted you to begin taking your vitamins or minerals, you may be wondering if it’s making any difference.
On December 17, 2013, three articles and a very frank editorial in the respected journal Annals of Internal Medicine questioned the use of vitamins and minerals to prevent heart disease and cancer and to maintain brain function. The editorial makes no mistake in its recommendation with its bold title: “Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.” It alludes to other articles which suggest little or no benefit to the supplements studied. The first article reviewed the use of vitamins/supplements to prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer, and found no benefit in healthy adults without nutrient deficiencies. The second article investigated if a daily multivitamin would prevent cognitive decline in men over 65 years and found no benefit. Finally, the third article evaluated the use of a multivitamin in patients with a previous heart attack and found no reduction in recurrence of heart disease. Given this information, you may be asking if the vitamin you are taking is worth it. When I read these articles, I had to remind myself this is one group’s conclusions, and all research studies have limitations. If I made my medical decisions based on individual articles, I would be giving different advice every week, depending on the latest journal report.
So what does this mean for you? Before dumping your bottles in the trash and swearing off supplements forever, understand there are situations when a supplement is beneficial. When my husband and I were considering getting pregnant, I started a prenatal vitamin with folic acid to prevent brain and spinal cord defects in the developing baby. If your physician has found you are at risk of macular degeneration, she may have advised you to take a multivitamin with lutein and anti-oxidants. Calcium and Vitamin D can prevent osteoporosis. Women with heavy menstrual cycles may benefit from iron supplements. There are multiple examples of when a vitamin or supplement is useful.
However, remember that supplements are just that; they are intended to complement a healthy lifestyle of a balanced diet and exercise, not act as a replacement for them. The most common scenario I see is a patient who eats a diet of fast food, bread products, and sugary beverages, who takes a multivitamin to ‘fill the gap,’ and make up for the missing nutrients from not eating fruits and vegetables. Popping a vitamin at the end of the day will not make up for the burger and fries eaten at your local fast food joint. It is better to get your nutrition directly from food, not from a pill. There is a place for vitamins and minerals in our daily routine, but the role should be small – a supplement – just as the name implies. Your grandmother did not say “a supplement a day keeps the doctor away,” now did she?
Contributed by Dr. Carrie Holland; Board Certified in Family Medicine
As Dr. Holland explains, the decision of whether or not to take a supplement is not black or white. There are also more factors to consider. You may have heard discussions on the quality of our food and if it still contains the proper nutrients. What about possible contaminants in our food supply such as hormones and pesticides? Issues to consider regarding supplements: Are they absorbed by our body? How is production regulated to ensure quality? And a major concern is cost. I’d like to invite Dr. Holland back to blog with us on more topics. If you have questions or want to suggest a topic, please post!Tweet