Are Vitamins Worth Taking?

I often receive questions about vitamin therapy. Some wonder if they should take vitamin supplements to prevent illness. Others ask if they still need vitamins if they are eating a well-balanced diet, and some simply want to know the best dosage of vitamin D or vitamin C.

So are vitamins worth it or a waste of money? Scottish heritage forbids me from spending money foolishly. Neither should you.

When patients question the value of vitamins, I always ask them, “What do you eat for breakfast?”

The typical reply is, “I skip breakfast, as I’m rushing to the office,” or “I get a muffin and coffee on my way to work.”

So they start their day with one nutritional strike against them. Their breakfast lacks fiber, vitamins, and minerals such as magnesium. This routine is also a great way to develop constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.

The second strike comes when they grab a hamburger for lunch. And later in the day, they strike out for the third time when it’s too convenient to pick up a packaged dinner loaded with calories, sugar, and salt. Reheating also destroys many of the vitamins that are present.

Some of my friends are strict vegetarians. But in their enthusiasm for avoiding animal products, they may not be getting enough vitamin B12, zinc, or calcium.

Readers of this column know I enjoy an alcoholic drink before dinner. I’ve always believed that Sir William Osler was right when he said, “Alcohol is for the elderly what milk is for the young.” But drink only in moderation, as those who imbibe too much are usually vitamin-deficient.

As our bodies age, they undergo changes. For instance, the stomach produces less acid, making it more difficult to absorb vitamin B12. I recall a patient who was believed to be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease who slowly regained normal mental function after receiving this vitamin.

Vitamins are not just for the elderly. There are over 70 million North American women in their reproductive years. They should all be taking folic acid every day, not just after they become pregnant. It’s vital to be on this vitamin before they become pregnant to prevent a defect in their baby’s spinal cord. Still, not enough women are hearing this message.

Current evidence shows that folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 help to decrease the risk of heart disease by decreasing the blood level of homocysteine.

But I believe that vitamin C plays an even greater role in preventing heart disease. In fact, studies by Dr. Sydney Bush, an English researcher, prove that high doses of vitamin C plus the amino acid lysine can open up blocked coronary arteries.

I believe there are now several reasons why it’s prudent to consider vitamin therapy. We must first rid ourselves of the misconception that the majority of North Americans eat a balanced diet. A significant portion of this diet is junk food and does not contain sufficient amounts of fruit, vegetables, fiber, minerals, and other vital ingredients.

As a prudent Scot, I first try to eat a balanced diet. I also take a variety of vitamins and minerals every day. This routine is not cheap but relative to the high cost of ill health, I look on these purchases as an inexpensive insurance policy.

A recent report contained disturbing news. Some North American pharmaceutical companies are importing billions of dollars of drugs and vitamin ingredients from foreign countries. A report from the University of California says, “Your vitamin pill may as well be labeled Vitamin China.”

It’s ironic that although manufacturers must state where your socks or TV sets were made, this is not true of vitamins. And studies have shown that just as household appliances can differ in quality, so can vitamin products. So it’s important to be careful and find out where your vitamins come from.

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