Vitamin supplements: What do most Americans need?
Vitamin supplements: What do most Americans need? That is the question I will be attempting to answer in the following few pages. To start, I will talk about their beginning as well as their recent growth in popularity in the past decade. I will discuss the medical views that are for and against the use of supplements, what types are most important, and what types people need. To conclude, I will tell about the supplements that I take and whether I will continue to do so.
Many years ago, there existed diseases such as scurvy, rickets, and everyday colds. These illnesses were the cause of a lot of sickness and sometimes led to other illness and death. Chemists looked everywhere for a cure. Then came the first supplement to become popularized in its uses this was vitamin C. This wonder pill was said to help the body fight colds and other sickness. With the discovery and use of these new vitamins the Food and Nutrition Board convened in 1941 to determine adequate dietary intakes of essential nutrients. At this time deficiency diseases were a common public-health problem. Since that meeting, with the process of food fortification and improved diets, these diseases have been relatively uncommon except in the poor and elderly. In 1943, the first Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) were published. (Skerrett, 25) These amounts were stated in what amounts were just enough to maintain good health, as that any more would just be excreted by the body or build up in the tissues.
Vitamin supplements have grown in popularity at a pretty constant rate since their development, but have become especially popular in recent years. The baby boomer generation that grew up on healthy diets is finding it hard to maintain that healthy lifestyle, and would rather now just pop a pill. Some experts fear that we will become dependent on these supplements and find everyone taking 50-60 different pills each day. Today, vitamin supplements are a $2 billion a year business in the United States. Even with all these wonder pills available in the market, experts still agree that foods should be the first and most appropriate source of nutrients. (Ross, 354-55)
In the past few years, the most popular supplement group has been the antioxidants-beta-carotene associated with vitamin A as well as the antioxidants in vitamin E. Antioxidants in general help clean up toxic products created by normal functions of the body’s cells. Cells use oxygen to burn their fuel and the byproducts of this process include free radicals. These are chemical compounds that combine easily with fats, proteins, and other substances in the body. (H.H.L, 1)
As far as beta-carotene’s abilities and uses go, there have been mixed reports. On one hand, these are being praised as a modern day Fountain of Youth saying that research was showing that it may reduce the risks of some forms of cancer, heart disease, strokes, as well as slow the aging process. The findings showed that supplement takers over the age of 65 scored better on tests of cognitive abilities such as reading and remembering maps. (Godbey, 20) In a test published by the National Cancer Institute persons who received supplements including beta-carotene had a reduced cancer rate of 13 percent below previous levels. (Antioxidants, 2) In another report by the American Heart Association, women who consumed high amounts of antioxidant containing foods had a 33 percent lower risk of heart attack and 71 percent lower risk of stroke than women who did not consume high amounts of beta-carotene. In other studies, low beta -carotene levels in smokers is highly correlated with increased risk of lung cancer and death from all cancers. Along with these helpful effects, beta-carotene is now being linked with a significantly stronger immune system that reduces infection-related illness by 50 percent. (Skerrett, 27)
The other side of the beta-carotene argument is associated to health problems in people who smoke. In a study of 18,000 smokers over a six-year period supplementing with vitamin A and beta-carotene, the cancer rate increased by 17 percent over previous levels. The main focus of the experiment, lung cancer, found an increased amount of 46 percent above previous levels. This study was halted 21 months ahead of schedule for the benefit of the subjects. One of the scientists on this study, Dr. Gary E. Goodman, had this to say: I started taking vitamin A supplements around 1980. Later I added beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E. I gave them all up when our study results came out. In 1997, a Harvard Medical School study showed results that supplements of beta-carotene did not help prevent heart problems
After the beta-carotene problems, vitamin E is now the most popular supplement as far as looking into its possibilities. So far vitamin E has been proven to have all the same positive effects that the beta-carotene in vitamin A has, and what is more, as yet, no negative effects have been found. Dr Meir Stampfer, associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, reported to the American Heart Association that E supplements of 100 international units (IU) or more per day cut the risk of heart disease in a large group of nurses by 46 percent. One can get vitamin E in several fruits, vegetables, seeds and grains. However, the small amounts found in these products are not enough. To get the amount one needs every day, a person can either drink two cups of corn oil, one of the best sources of E, or you can supplement. (H.H.L., 1&3)
Can you overdose? Yes, you can overdose on vitamins. Although rare, it is possible for vitamins to be taken in such great amounts that they become toxic to one’s body. Most cases of this are from parents feeding their kids supplements that have levels too high for small bodies. Fat soluble vitamins such as A and D are the most likely to cause problems since they can accumulate in tissues. Symptoms of this are bone and joint pain, blurred vision, dry skin, and hair and weight loss. Vitamins E and C have shown no problems thus far, for most of the excess C is excreted in urine and the E build up in tissues have shown no damaging effects. As a final note, those who abruptly stop taking high doses of vitamin C may develop rebound scurvy as their bodies adjust to normal dietary amounts. (Skerrett, 30)
Who are people that take supplements? Supplement users are generally healthy people. The majority of people surveyed that stated that they regularly take supplements were whites, women, those over 75 years of age, those at or above the poverty level and those who had more than 12 years of education. (Selesinski, 3001) Compared to non-users, the diets of vitamin users were lower in fat and higher in fiber and vitamins A and C. A recent Louis Harris poll sponsored by Prevention magazine, showed that 41 percent of Americans take vitamin supplements mostly in the form of multivitamin pills. Disappointingly only nine percent eat 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. (Skerett, 25-26)
Who are the people that need to supplement? Those who practice food and food group avoidance, sick people, smokers, alcohol abusers, heavy exercisers, bulimia and laxative abusers, adolescence, pregnant women, and all those in middle age and beyond.
People who practice individual food or food group avoidance include people who are allergic to certain foods, people who practice anorexia, vegetarians, fad dieters, and those who get too much of a substance such as caffeine of fiber. Vegetarians are most often lacking in vitamins D and B12, calcium, iron and zinc. Dieters need to realize when they cut back on calories they also cut back on nutrition. People who take less than 1,200 calories per day probably aren’t getting the nutrients they need from food. Cutting back on fat is healthy, but those who drop their fat intake below 10 percent of their total calories make it difficult for their bodies to get enough vitamins A, D, and E. (Kolasa, 95)
Sick people need the supplements to help boost their immune system and keep the possibilities of more infections as low as possible. Smoking and alcohol abuse can cause your body to break down many of your natural beta-carotenes and vitamins, especially vitamins B1, B6, C, D, and folic acid. Therefore taking the supplement can be beneficial, but not so much as quitting. As stated earlier, those who are later on in life can benefit from supplements of beta-carotene, which is shown to help with prevention of memory loss and staying healthy. As well as countering the deficiency effects caused by medications that you may take, that interfere with you body’s normal nutrients.
A lot of my research talked about women’s needs. During the first few weeks of pregnancy, women need plenty of vitamin B and folic acid to help protect the fetus from a common birth defect, spina bifida. Studies on developing embryos have shown that vitamin A helps control cellular differentiation and maturation. If women are pregnant or breast-feeding they need more vitamins A, C, B1, B6, B12, folic acid, iron, and calcium than usual. For women taking prenatal vitamins containing folate as to help prevent birth defects, new studies show that the majority of the prescriptions failed to dissolve in the body for absorption. Women with estrogen in high-dose birth control pills may need increased amounts of B6 and folic acid. (Kolasa, 97)
What should one look for in a multivitamin? Women should look for iron, but men should not. Men should avoid iron in supplements because it may cause heart disease and colon cancer. One should then look for all of these vitamins: A, D, B6, folic acid, magnesium, zinc, and chromium. There are three others that have been recommended but should be taken separately in order to get proper dosage amounts. These are vitamin C, E, and calcium. These three are the most important and useful to our body, health and bones. Things to look for other than ingredients, include: expiration date (one should only buy what you can use before that time), ability to be absorbed (this is also called the dissolution rate) and a U. S. Pharmacopeia label, meaning that this vitamin has been tested and does indeed dissolve properly. (U of M, 3)
What should one avoid in vitamins? Avoid alcohol-based products often called tonics or elixirs. Don’t use products that have ingredients that have no proven value to human nutrition. Avoid storing vitamins in hot, humid places like bathrooms or near stoves and ovens.
I myself take most of the supplements mentioned in this paper. Most of what I need is in a supplement called Body Wise, but I also add the vitamins E and C from alternate sources. I started using these because my mom disliked my eating habits. I like to munch between meals and eat out a lot with friends. She researched all the brands and found these to be the best for our family so with some pushing and arguing I agreed to take them. She liked what she found so well that she now sells them on a part time basis mostly to friends and family. Even though some of the information in my research told of the downsides of supplements I will continue to take them, for I feel that they have made me healthier and more consciences about my eating. I know though that if I would improve my dietary habits to include 3-5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day I would have a much better chance of staying healthy and alive.