Thursday, January 8, 2009

Really? Vitamins don't help prevent disease?

You may have heard about or read this week's USA Today article, "Vitamins get 'F' in cancer prevention." What? When I saw the headline I was completely baffled. Then it hit me that when most folks hear the word "vitamin," they think of a pill or capsule. And that's just what this title is referring to. When we nutrition folks hear "vitamin," we think about vitamins in foods, and how nutrient-rich foods are proven cancer-fighters and lower risk of chronic disease. Indeed, the article confirms that, without a shadow of a doubt, nutrient-rich FOODS play a major role in the prevention and treatment of disease. Food is our main medicine; it is what nourishes us and becomes part of us. We literally are what we eat: all of the proteins, carbs, fats, water, vitamins, minerals, etc. that we put into our bodies from the time we are born (and your mother's food before that) are the building blocks of all the cells that make up YOU. So of course that headline was designed to catch our attention. It did mine.

I hope that nutrition skeptics read past the title. Because here's the best quote of the article: "
health-conscious consumers should focus on getting their vitamins from plant foods, such as vegetables and whole grains, which contain precise mixtures of hundreds or even thousands of compounds. Many of these compounds may work better in the combinations selected by nature." Another point scored for a vegan lifestyle.

This article reiterates what we've known for many years: certain supplements, taken in isolation, may be harmful. Beta carotene and vitamin E are culprits in notorious studies that suggested that these nutrients (taken as supplements) may do more harm than good. The main reason cited for individual nutrients' lack of protectiveness is that nutrients found in whole foods work together, synergistically, to enhance health and protect against disease. Isolate just one or two nutrients from the rest of the food and boost the dose, and the balance is thrown off.

However, scientific research on certain supplements strongly favor a benefit when taken along with a healthy diet, particularly for vegans. These nutrients include:

Vitamin D. Take 1000 IU per day to ensure good status.

DHA. Take 250-300 mg per day to promote healthy fatty acid balance.

Vitamin B12. Take 400 to 1000 micrograms per day to keep status high.

Also, keep in mind that taking the RDA for all the nutrients is ok, so do pop that multi to ensure good nutrient status. Just beware of taking vitamins/minerals above the RDA for any one nutrient, unless specified by your nutritionist or physician.

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