Friday, October 21, 2011


The role played by vitamins in various body functions is well understood and increased awareness about human nutrition among the people has opened up a new opportunity for "business" for the Pharmaceutical industry in offering preparations based on these vitamins in varying combinations to health conscious population. It is undisputed that each vitamin serves a purpose when ingested through the daily diet in adequate amounts and the probability of "overdose" is practically nil. Nutritionists recommend that a balanced food must be consumed made of a combination of cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables each of the group contributing different vitamins in different concentration. Deficiency of vitamin is never a possibility among consumers eating a balanced food but the tendency of the food industry to use over refined food ingredient like cereals, fat, legumes and others has precipitated a situation for inadequate availability of these micro nutrients. Here again the industry invariably tries to make up for the lost nutrients through fortification and enrichment with them to varying extent. If this is so where is the necessity for taking synthetic vitamins regularly? Why is that in many affluent countries regular popping in of multivitamin products has become a part of daily life? Here is a critique on this issue which is based on a rational analysis of this phenomenon.

As many as one-third of Americans take vitamins and nearly half of people 50 and older take multivitamins, surveys suggest. Americans spent $9.6 billion on vitamins last year, up from $7.2 billion in 2005, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. Multivitamins top the list, at nearly $5 billion in sales. Yet there is no clear evidence that multivitamins lower the risk of cancer, heart disease or any other chronic health problems. No government agency recommends them "regardless of the quality of a person's diet," says a fact sheet from the federal Office of Dietary Supplements. And vitamins aren't required to undergo the strict testing required of U.S.-approved prescription medicines. Some fads, such as the antioxidant craze over vitamins A and E and beta-carotene, backfired when studies found more health risk, not less. And studies that find more disease in people with too little of a certain vitamin can be misleading: Correcting a deficiency so you have the right daily amount is different from supplementing beyond recommended levels. The best way to get vitamins is to eat foods that naturally contain them, said Jody Engel, a nutritionist with Office of Dietary Supplements. "Foods provide more than just vitamins and minerals, such as fiber and other ingredients that may have positive health effects." Schardt adds: "It's virtually impossible to overdose on the nutrients in food." Some folks may need more of certain nutrients and should talk with their doctors about supplements:
— Postmenopausal women regarding calcium and vitamin D to protect bones.
— Women planning on pregnancy regarding folate, or folic acid, to prevent birth defects.
— People over age 50 and vegans who may need vitamin B12. "As we get older, a number of us no longer produce enough acid in the stomach to extract the B12 in food," Schardt explained.
— Pregnant women, who may need extra iron.
— Breastfed infants and possibly other infants concerning vitamin D.
Vitamin D is a nutrient many of us may need to supplement. Last fall, the Institute of Medicine, a panel of scientists who advise the government, raised the recommended amount but also warned against overdoing it. People ages 1 to 70 should get 600 international units a day, older folks 800 units. If you do need a supplement, beware: Quality varies., a company that tests supplements and publishes ratings for subscribers, has found a high rate of problems in the 3,000 products it has tested since 1999. "One out of 4 either doesn't contain what it claims or has some other problems such as contamination or the pills won't break apart properly," said company president Dr. Tod Cooperman. For example, one gummy bear calcium product had 250 percent of the amount of vitamin D claimed on the label. Another liquid product made with rose hips had just over half the amount of vitamin C listed. "You don't have to pay a lot. Price is not necessarily linked to quality," he said. "The quality doesn't really relate to where you're buying it. I know many people are surprised by that or don't want to believe it, but that is the case. We find good and bad products in every venue."

It is true that one cannot decry consumption of vitamin preparation in all cases and there are specific target groups which need external supply of these nutrients at appropriate levels for maintaining their health. The danger of over consumption lurks in countries like the US where practically every food sold in the market is fortified or enriched with vitamins and minerals and regular consumption of pills containing them at high levels may be fraught with some risk. Besides the quality and bio-availability of the synthetic nutrients delivered through these preparations are always uncertain. The lesson one has to learn is that taking any so called health "improving" supplements must only be at doctors' advice. There is some substance in the statement often seen in the reception area of a physician that "self medication is a crime"!


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