Physician recommendations on taking vitamins seem to be constantly changing. Over the past few years, researchers have found that some vitamins thought to be helpful might not be as beneficial as originally believed.
In fact, some may even be harmful. In the Iowa Women’s Health Study, which tracked supplementation habits in women 55 years of age and older for nearly 20 years, research found that taking a multivitamin may increase the risk of premature death.
Commonly, people take vitamins for general health or as a way to prevent disease, and on the surface this seems to make a lot of sense. Taking vitamins is almost like an “insurance policy” against poor nutrition and for good health.
In fact, studies show that diets strong in antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables are associated with lower rates of cancer and heart disease. Unfortunately, studies with supplements alone don’t show the same strong favorable results.
Just because a supplement sounds good, or your friend told you to take it, or it is for sale at a store without a prescription, or you read about it on the Internet does not mean that vitamin supplementation is actually good for you.
There are situations where physician-directed supplementation is beneficial: persons with a poor or limited diet, medical conditions that inhibit the absorption of nutrients (Crohn’s disease), large losses of nutrients (due to diarrhea, dialysis, kidney failure), or medical conditions that could benefit from supplementation like beta carotene, vitamin C and E and zinc (certain forms of macular degeneration).
Research suggests that taking vitamins and supplements should be approached with caution and only under the direction of a doctor. Fruits and vegetables contain a large variety of beneficial compounds. Singling out a few specific vitamins as being beneficial and then supplementing with them appears to be too simplistic.
Be sure to discuss with your doctor recommendations for vitamin D and calcium for bone health, and your possible needs for taking a multivitamin supplement. As my friend and the respected Dr. Gonzalez-Campoy says, “Just make sure you eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day — it is the very best vitamin in nature.”
Instead of taking supplements and multi-vitamins, this is exactly what I recommend.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the U.S. by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians, MABP.org.