INK Article: Vital-mins?

Dana Hemmert is all about health. She eats almost exclusively organic, stays away from foods that contain artificial chemicals, sticks to a vegetarian diet, and refuses to take Advil, Tylenol, or Aspirin for fear of damaging her liver or kidneys. But in one respect, the sophomore stands in stark contrast to current trends in health: Hemmert does not take vitamins.

“I don’t feel I need vitamins to supplement my diet,” she explains. “Instead of having a reliance on vitamins, I think people should change their diet to include vitamins in their everyday food.”

It’s hard to keep up to date about health-related issues, and current opinion on vitamins is no different. Studies are frequent, each new one with results seemingly different from those before it. For example, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in November of 2009 claimed that around ten percent of Americans were vitamin D-deficient. Another study, from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Murray, Utah, came out in fall of 2011 showing that vitamin supplements decrease the risk of heart disease. So taking vitamin D is a good idea, right?

More recent findings disagree. A study that followed 132,000 women at a medical center in Utah demonstrated that over-supplementation of vitamin D, a common tendency, can harm your heart more than a vitamin D deficiency. Still another study at the University of Melbourne suggested that vitamin-D supplementation is less effective at preventing bone fractures than not taking anything at all.

Because studies are so divided in their results about vitamin use, exploring current attitudes only reveals a large spectrum of well-informed opinions from various health professionals. Some doctors advocate taking numerous specific vitamins and minerals as well as a daily multivitamin. Others encourage patients to shy away from any supplements. Still others suggest only taking supplements after being assessed for deficiency.

In terms of general opinion, a Wall Street Journal poll found that 58% of people think vitamin supplementation is an effective health tool, with 25% saying they don’t think it is, and the remaining 17% not sure.

Upon one thing, however, everyone agrees: taking too many vitamins can be detrimental. “If you totally go crazy on stuff and you don’t need it, that’s not going to help your body,” says junior A. Pappastergiou, who takes an array of vitamins and minerals.

“I think I used to take too many vitamins,” agrees Karyn Bristol, a yoga instructor and Kirby parent. “I have learned through reading studies that it’s harmful to take too many, so I am moderate in my dosage.”

“People are taking too many vitamins,” agrees health instructor Beth Riley, “and they are throwing their money down the drain because it all comes out in the urine. The vitamins are being passed right through the body and not being utilized. You have to be careful about how much you take.”

Pappastergiou suggests it’s not always the amount you take, but rather the types. “I take vitamin D because it’s been shown that high doses can reduce trouble with asthma,” she says. “That probably wouldn’t be helpful for someone who doesn’t have asthma and doesn’t need the vitamin D. I also have low iron, so I take an iron supplement, but if someone’s iron was fine, then they wouldn’t need to take it. It’s a case by case subject.”

“I would encourage people to look at their life styles and the problems they may have internally or externally and choose supplements that help,” suggests Bristol. “For example, I get these muscle cramps in my legs if my magnesium is too low, so [when that happens,] I make a magnesium drink and the muscle cramps go away.”

Some people only take supplements when they have been deprived of certain vitamins or minerals recently, or if they need specific types. Music teacher Drew Lewis keeps a jug of Vitamin C, shown to help the immune system, in his room for students who might be coming down with a cold, which might affect their voices.

“Vitamins in general boost your immune system,” senior A. Patel says. “I take vitamin C when I know I can’t get sick—if it’s finals week or something. It makes it so there’s something else in my favor—even if I know it’s not going to be a hundred percent accurate, I know that it’s there.”

Hemmert agrees that Vitamin C can help with a cold, but she doesn’t think the boost necessarily needs to come from vitamins in tablets. “Vitamin C comes from orange fruits and vegetables,” Hemmert says, “so if you get your oranges, yams, carrots, those are all high in vitamins C and can help a cold.”

For other essential vitamins besides vitamin C, “dark green vegetables have lots of vitamins in them, and going outside for fifteen minutes a day without having sunscreen on is where you get your vitamin D,” says Hemmert. “As a general rule, if you’re getting your vitamins from natural places, your overall health is going to increase, rather than taking something with all these added flavors and food dyes in it that you’re putting in your body.”

“If we have a balanced diet, we should not have to take vitamins,” says Bristol. “However, I drink coffee and skip meals, so I like to take vitamins to make up for that.”

Pappastergiou agrees. “I think that everyone should have a healthy diet,” she says, “but no one’s perfect. Realistically, there are so many different healthy diets, but all of them have something missing.” She partly blames the manufacturing of food for this. “Nowadays, our food sources are so depleted of nutrients that even when you eat organic and balanced, after the transportation process, the amount of time it is in the store and cooking it—there’s less nutrients left in our food.”

“In terms of where we are right now with our food production, our soil is kind of depleted,” agrees Riley. “A lot of times the plants that are grown conventionally don’t have as much nutritional value as organically grown plants, so vitamins supplement what we would be getting from a plant grown in natural conditions.”

Because of the deficiencies, either from diet or depletions in the soil, an article called “The Bottom Line” from Harvard’s School of Public Health suggests that “a multivitamin can help fill in the gaps, and may have added health benefits.”

“If people really have a good diet and they’re eating whole foods,” admits Riley, “they won’t need as much supplementation.  So if you get your five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, if you’re getting adequate amounts of fish in particular, with the essential fatty acids in them, [then you won’t need as much]. Most teenagers don’t get enough calcium, especially vegans, unless they’re eating a lot of dark leafy greens and almonds and sardines. [Calcium] is really important when you’re a teenager because that’s when your bones are growing, and you can’t regrow your bones later in your life.”

Says Bristol, “I would encourage people to do a little research. I listen to Doctor Dawn Saturday mornings at 9am on KUSP. She is a MD and an alternative doctor, and people call her all the time and ask about vitamins. I think is a wonderful resource.”

Riley agrees that exploring the need for vitamins before taking them is a good idea. “I would say it’s worth experimenting with vitamins if someone looks at the food pyramid and notices that there are a lot of vitamins that are missing,” she says. “You should look at your eating habits to see how much you need to supplement.”

With all of the supposed health benefits and/or side effects, doing research and talking to one’s doctor is important when deciding whether to start supplementing. “It’s hard to do without the help of a nutritionist,” says Riley. “A nutritionist can be very helpful. Blood tests can sometimes help, especially with iron deficiency—the [doctor] can regulate the vitamins according to the blood results and see the before and after to determine if the vitamins are helping.”

Keeping up to date with new studies and findings is also important. Just being aware of the information that’s out there can help one to make the best decision for one’s own health, whether it is loading up on vitamins or abstaining completely. Says Bristol, “I have come to learn that daily walking, moderate eating and drinking, my yoga practice, and good mental health are the tickets to a vibrant health.”

Pappastergiou explains, “Vitamins can help everywhere from making your hair shinier and building up your nails to making improving T cell function. If you can do something that isn’t invasive and isn’t going to harm your body, why wouldn’t you help yourself be healthy?”

Image credited to nickwheeleroz

Article “Vital-mins? Supplements are a huge industry. Should they be?” by Adriana Brock published in INK Volume 8, Issue 4 on February 9, 2012.

One Response to INK Article: Vital-mins?

  1. Willa Brock wrote:

    Not that I’m biased or anything, but this article is fabulous!!!! Also, glad to see that Ink is getting online… something we flirted with when I was on the paper, but never really got around to doing. It looks great! Please, put more stories up 🙂

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