Today, we are bombarded by so much information on taking supplements to improve overall health, how does one know where to start? There are several factors to consider before starting a vitamin regimen.
See your health care practitioner
Rather than devising your own supplement program, or following the media’s latest blockbuster supplement of the day, it would be a good idea to see your primary health practitioner and/or nutritionist to get a vitamin test profile. This way you can see exactly where you stand in terms of vitamin deficiencies and nutrition.
A vitamin test profile includes: the B vitamins, vitamins D and E; total antioxidant profile; the essential minerals – calcium, magnesium and zinc. The benefit of doing this places you in the know with your body and can uncover valuable information such as:
Subclinical deficiencies – (these would be the symptoms that aren’t detected on a clinical exam, but indicate that problems are present on a cellular level). The key is to pick this information up to prevent onset of disease.
Discovering the source of those vague aches and pains – Many times we are plagued with feelings of fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, depression and scores of other symptoms. This could be due to a vitamin deficiency.
What type of dietary and lifestyle changes to make – Once you know what you are fighting, you know how to prepare for battle. Sometimes dietary additions or subtractions, along with supplementation, can help get rid of the problem.
How to take your supplements
Okay, now you are armed with some valuable information. Your vitamin profile results. Your health care practitioner can intelligently sit down with you with this information and review the results and make recommendations as to what you should be taking. Let’s get started with some pointers.
Most of us know that the body is going to use a certain amount of a given vitamin or supplement. The excess will be excreted in the urine. (Of course, except for the fat soluble vitamins). So therefore, it is a good idea to divide the doses of your vitamin during the course of the day.
For example, if you are taking 2,000 or 3,000 milligrams of vitamin C, it would be better to take 1,000 milligrams two or three times a day, with food. This will increase absorption and prevent the stomach upset that sometimes accompanies supplement taking.
Don’t worry too much about problems in taking a combination of vitamins and minerals together. According to “The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book,” by Shari Lieberman and Nancy Bruning, there isn’t a lot of concrete information about harm. They caution, just be careful about taking too much of one supplement. Makes sense.
Natural vs. Synthetic
Dr. Lieberman points out that essentially, vitamins consist of the same substances whether found in food or the laboratory. Personally, I usually like to see the word natural on the label. I think that many other people feel this way too. Again, Dr. Lieberman points out that many vitamins that are labeled natural, really have some synthetic ingredients in them. Natural refers to the fact that no other unnatural ingredients are present such as coal tars, sugar, starches and coloring. Also, she states that economically it would be impossible to make an affordable vitamin supplement that was 100% natural. Keep in mind that the situation changes somewhat with fat soluble vitamins, particularly vitamin E; the natural form is more absorbable than its synthetic version.
Can vitamins do any harm?
Interestingly, a CDC and National Capital Poison Control Center study report over a six year period from 1983 to 1989, revealed 2,069 drug fatalities compared with no vitamin fatalities. And, when there were reports of supplement problems, it was found that the patients were also taking prescription drugs. (Lieberman, “The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book,”
As a final thought on adverse problems in supplements, it is important to be mindful of the fact that drastically reducing any supplement is not recommended. It would be a better idea to slowly wean off the vitamin or supplement. If you have been taking 5,000 milligrams of vitamin C during the winter, don’t just drop suddenly to 500 milligrams in the spring. Follow the advice of your primary care practitioner.
How should I store my vitamins?
Remember, vitamins, as with most medication, should be stored in a cool, dry and dark place. This is to keep the ingredients in the supplements from spoiling. Unopened vitamins will last about two years. Opened, on the other hand, will last about one year. Generally, it is too warm to keep your vitamins on top of the refrigerator except for the fat soluble vitamins which should be stored in the refrigerator.
On a closing note, more and more Americans are becoming health savvy and starting to take supplements. As a result, we see many diseases declining in number. The main point here is don’t wait until you have symptoms to start your supplement program. Remember, your health is in your hands.
“The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book,” Dr. Shari Lieberman and Nancy Bruning