Vitamins and Minerals

Should you take supplements?
Supplements are not a replacement for food, and most cannot be ingested without food. They cannot be taken in place of a good diet, but their beneficial effects will be optimized if combined with a balanced intake of nutritious foods. People suffering from chronic conditions or who smoke or drink regularly may need to take supplements to ensure optimum health.

Micronutrients work in conjunction with one another, and taking large doses of any one supplement can upset the balance within the body. A good vitamin and mineral supplement will ensure that you are getting the correct amounts of each, according to the relationships between them. Extra supplement should only be taken on the advice of a registered nutritionist or medical practitioner. Where supplements are taken to discourage the course of illness – for example vitamin C for colds or flu – it is safe to take larger doses than usual.

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Vitamins, minerals, and other elements work together within the body to ensure that all processes can be carried out. When even one element is missing, the body becomes unbalanced and unable to work at its optimum level.

When should supplements be taken?

The best time for taking most supplements is after meals, on a full stomach, although some vitamins and minerals work best on an empty stomach. Read the label on any supplement you plan to take to find out the best time to take it.

Time-release formulas need to be taken with food, as their nutrients are slowly released over a number of hours. If there is not enough food to slow their passage through the body, they can pass the sites where they are normally absorbed before they have had a chance to release their nutrients.

Take supplements evenly throughout the day for best effect.

When to see a practitioner?

Most supplements can be taken safely without input from a nutritionist, but if you suffer from chronic health problems, or a specific ailment, it is best to seek expert advice. Amino acids and other elements should only be taken with the advice of a professional. A nutritionist will make sure that you are taking a balanced combination of nutrients that will work together to make you healthy. Remember that everyone’s needs are different, based on overall health, diet, whether or not you smoke or drink, are pregnant, and other influences. It is sensible to ensure that you receive advice that is tailored specifically to your individual needs.


Children need far lower doses than adults, and a healthy, organic diet should offer a large proportion of their nutritional needs. A good vitamin and mineral supplement will provide anything extra that is required, but if you feel your child needs further supplements, see a practitioner. If you are buying products yourself, read the label to ensure that the product is safe for children, and follow the advice carefully.


A growing baby puts heavy demands on your body when you are pregnant, and it is more important than ever to ensure that you have a good diet. Research has now proved that we need extra folic acid and iron during pregnancy, and a good multivitamin and mineral supplement is often suggested. Do not take vitamin A supplements while pregnant.

A Healthy Diet

Our diet should be made up of complex carbohydrates (5 to 9 portions per day), fruits and vegetables (4 to 9 portions), proteins (3 to 5 portions), and fat (under 3Og per day is recommended for a healthy diet). But eating the right foods doesn’t necessarily mean that you are getting enough nutrients. Refining and processing foods takes out much of the nutritional value, and pesticides and other agents used in the growing process place extra demands on our bodies. Before our food ever reaches the grocery store it may be nutritionally deficient. Therefore, take extra steps to preserve the nutritional content of your food whenever possible:

Eat the skins of vegetables.

Don’t cut, wash, or soak fruit and vegetables until you are ready to eat them. Exposing their cut surfaces to air destroys many nutrients.

Eat brown, unpolished rice and whole grains.

Choose fresh fruit and vegetables first, but remember that nutritional value decreases with age. Frozen is a better option if you aren’t going to eat the food immediately.

Eat raw whenever possible; if cooking, use as little water as possible.

If you do boil fruit or vegetables, use the water remaining after cooking in your sauces or gravy.

Eat organic food whenever possible. It may be more expensive, but you can be sure that the food you are eating has not been processed, and has been grown without the use of pesticides and other chemicals.

Vitamin A Supplements Help Growth Rate in Sick Kids

The Harvard University study involved about 690 children from Tanzania between 6 months and 60 months old who had been admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. Twenty-four percent of the children were also suffering from malaria and 9 percent tested positive for HIV infection. Some children in the study received either an oral dose of vitamin A on their first day of admission, a second dose on the second day, and third and fourth doses four and eight months after they were discharged. A second group of children received placebo doses at the same times. Children were assessed for length, weight, and other measures of growth at the beginning of the study and again during monthly visits to the clinic.

After one year, results showed HIV-positive children under 18 months old who received vitamin A supplements improved in terms of length, while those who had malaria and were less than a year old improved in terms of weight. Children who lived in areas with poor water supplies also showed an improvement in length, and the supplements virtually eliminated the risk of growth stunting associated with persistent diarrhea.

Researchers conclude providing vitamin A supplements every four months to children under the age of 5 who live in areas with a high rate of infectious diseases such as HIV, malaria, and diarrhea could be an effective and inexpensive way to help these children reach their full growth potential.

SOURCE: Pediatrics, 2002;109;E6

Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is a progressive deterioration of the brain. It affects memory and thought, as well as communication and the ability to make decisions. Although the symptoms are usually mild at the onset of the disease, they often progress to such an extent that work and socializing become impossible.

Alzheimer’s usually afflicts people who are over the age of sixty. The most common symptoms are memory loss, inability to recognize family or friends, difficulty speaking and remembering words, personality changes, and difficulty making decisions. If you fear that yourself or someone you love may have Alzheimer’s, see a doctor for a diagnosis. This disease is incurable, but its progress can often be slowed down. The following supplements can help.

Supplements to treat Alzheimer’s Disease

• Acetyl-L-Carnitine
• Alpha-lipoic acid – Improves blood sugar levels so diabetics may be able to take less medication.
• B-complex vitamins
• Bilberry
• Carotenoids – Do not take for extended periods of time. Do not take high dosages if you have liver disease, are a smoker, or are exposed to asbestos. Beta carotene is perhaps the best known of the carotenoids because of its potential vitamin A activity. Diets rich in carotenoids, especially lycopene, may prevent prostate cancer. Other carotenoids may protect against ovarian cancer. Dietary sources rich in beta carotene and other provitamin A carotenoids include carrots, broccoli, yellow squash, corn, tomatoes, papayas, oranges, and dark green leafy vegetables.
• Coenzyme Q10
• EPA/DHA (fish oil)
• Ginkgo biloba
• Huperzine A – This Chinese herb should not be taken with other medications for Alzheimer’s disease.
• Inositol
• Magnesium
• NADH – Reduced and more active form of niacin.
• Phosphatidylcholine (Lecithin) – Use with caution if you have malabsorption problems, as this could exacerbate them.
• Phosphatidylserine – This product is particularly helpful to prevent Alzheimer’s, as well as toward the onset of the disease.
• Selenium
• Vinpocetine – Do not take if you are taking a blood thinner.
• Vitamin B9 (folic acid) – High doses can depete your body of other vitamins in the B complex.
• Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
• Vitamin C
• Vitamin D
• Vitamin E – Take mixed tocopherols, the more active type of vitamin E. Consult healthcare provider first if you are taking a blood thinner.

Supplements to improve memory

• Acetyl-L-Carnitine
• Alpha-lipoic acid
• B-complex vitamins
• Coenzyme Q10
• EPA/DHA (fish oil)
• Ginkgo biloba
• N-acetylcysteine (NAC) – When taking NAC supplements, also take extra vitamin C, copper, and zinc.
• Phosphatidylcholine (Lecithin) – Use with caution if you have malabsorption problems, as this could exacerbate them.
• Phosphatidylserine
• Resveratrol
• Selenium
• Vinpocetine
• Vitamin A and mixed carotenoids – Use caution when taking vitamin A supplements because they have the potential to be toxic. Do not take for extended periods of time. Do not take high doses if you have liver disease, are a smoker, or are exposed to asbestos.
• Vitamin B9 (folic acid)
• Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
• Vitamin C
• Vitamin E