Should you take a vitamin pill?

14 Oct 2011 5:34 PM - Making sense of the newspaper headlines

Vitamins have received a lot of bad press lately and, not surprisingly, people are very confused.  Do you take a multi?  Should you stop your calcium supplement, or your iron supplement? Are you wasting your money or, worse still, doing yourself harm, as some of the recently published studies would have you believe. 

Let me try to provide some clarity for you.  Supplements, whether taken in the form of a multivitamin or specific vitamins or mineral, will only be necessary if your dietary intake is insufficient for your needs.  Now, bare in mine that everyone’s needs will be different, depending on their genes, lifestyle, digestion, stress levels, activity levels, pre-existing health problems etc etc. 

As a naturopath, my first objective is to make sure your diet is as good as it can be (given your unique circumstances) and that you also have optimal digestion so that you absorb the nutrients in your food.  Then, taking this into account, along with other health problems I might prescribe various vitamins and minerals.  This could be for a short period of time, while we are working on your diet, or for a longer period, depending on your needs. 

So what about the negative studies?  With regard to one recent study (the IOWA women’s study) which suggested increased mortality in women taking vitamin and mineral supplements, it should be noted that they showed weak statistical association and lacked explanation of why the results might have arisen (i.e. the analysis of the data was not particularly thorough).  Probably, the weakest aspect was that vitamin intake was self reported on a periodic basis (i.e. the women were asked to recall what they took on only three occasions over an 18 year period).  There was little or no analysis of the amounts or the form of the nutrient (nutrients come in different forms and not all work in the body in the same way).  This does not make for good scientific conclusions.  Unfortunately, newspapers love a dramatic headline and conveniently leave out the detail. 

There is no doubt that taking more than you need will, at the very least be a waste of money, and in some circumstances be harmful.  Therefore, if you want to be confident you are getting what you need and only what you need, have your nutritional supplements prescribed by a naturopath after a consultation.  This is the best way to ensure you are getting exactly what you need, no more, no less and in a form that is best for you.  There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution.

 

in good health,

 

Kaye Wright
Naturopath