A vitamin is defined as “any of a group of organic substances essential in small quantities to normal metabolism and health, found in natural foodstuffs and also produced synthetically.” One of the most unique characteristics of a vitamin is that it participates in our bodies chemical reactions to help the reaction occur more efficiently yet they are not used up in the reaction itself.
So far we have Identified 13 different vitamins of which 4 are made within the body. Thus, the other 9 must be ingested. The confusion surrounds how best to get these vitamins into our bodies. Most nutritionists and doctors agree that everyone's basic needs can be met through a balanced diet if you eat enough fruit and vegetables. The problem is that the current dietary guidelines call for three to five servings of vegetables daily in addition to two to four fruit servings daily. Frankly, most of us don't even come close to matching these daily dietary guidelines over the long run. Some experts even feel that a balanced diet may be lacking in minerals since many vegetables are grown on mineral-depleted soils.
So what do you do? Most experts agree that taking a daily multi-vitamin won't hurt anyone. Research has also shown that synthetically produced vitamins work just as well in the body as those ingested in our foods. Data continues to accumulate which shows some preventative benefits of taking a vitamin supplement regularly.
I personally feel that there is enough evidence out there to support the regular use of vitamins and antioxidants in the prevention of disease even if your diet is in perfect balance.
Higher-than-recommended amounts of folate and vitamin B6 may help reduce the risk of a heart attack by reducing blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid believed to damage blood vessels and contribute to fatty plaque buildup in arteries. The lowest risk of heart attack occurred in people who consumed more than 400 micrograms of folate and more than 3 milligrams of vitamin B6 each day. B
For now, I personally suggest that many of us would benefit from taking an excellent quality multi-vitamin / multi-mineral supplement daily, or even three days a week. Many multi-vitamin brands are perfectly acceptable and I know of no convincing scientific research showing that an expensive brand works better than a less expensive generic.
There are some good liquid supplements available for those who have trouble swallowing pills or tolerating a full-strength vitamin.
Unlike supplements, foods offer important combinations of nutrients. Vitamins and antioxidants work synergistically, and they probably work best in their own natural environment (food). Also, when you eat certain foods, such as fruits and vegetables, you're not only getting the essential vitamins and minerals, but also many different phytochemicals, some of which are believed to help block the formation of tumors.
Try and take in a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables each day – especially yellow, orange and leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, tomatoes and berries.
Even in those who have a well-balanced diet, I feel there is adequate evidence to consider intake of the following vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. As always, you should involve your personal physician in the decision making process.
- A daily Multivitamin / mineral supplement (such as Centrum®, One-A-Day®, Theragran-M®, or the brands found in health-food stores). In addition, I recommend taking the following …
- Vitamin E: 400-800 IU per day. Look for “mixed tocopherols” rather than plain vitamin E.
- Vitamin C: 250 – 500 mg. twice per day. It only hangs around the blood for 12 hours.
- Selenium: no more than 200 mcg. per day. There is compelling evidence from several clinical trials that selenium lowers the risk of a number of prevalent cancers (such as cancer of the lung, colon, rectum, bladder, esophagus, pancreas, breast, ovary, and cervix). Take with Vit. E but not at the same time as Vit. C which can reduce the absorption of inorganic selenium. Use the “organic” form if possible since Vitamin C does not interfere with it's absorption and they can be taken together.
Optimal health requires some effort to exercise regularly, quit smoking, reduce fat intake and maintain a healthy body weight, in addition to the judicious use of supplements.