Recent studies cast doubt on multivitamins, but local experts see value

Inside the Crystal Lake Health Food Store, manager Dave Childress helps customers find multivitamin supplements.

Doctors can prescribe the supplements for people who may have nutritional gaps in their diets. But recent studies published by the Annals of Internal Medicine journal said multivitamins don’t provide as much protection for aging brains in men or help heart attack survivors.

Millions of Americans spend billions of dollars on vitamin combinations, presumably to boost their health and bolster their diets. But while people who don’t eat enough of certain nutrients may be urged to get them in pill form, the government doesn’t recommend routine vitamin supplementation as a way to prevent chronic diseases.

The recent studies showed people who took vitamins fared no better on memory or other cognitive tests, and vitamins had no effect on the risk for heart disease.

Childress, a certified nutritionist, said a few studies should not be the final word when it comes to multivitamins. He said there needs to be hundreds of studies done before saying multivitamins are not useful.

“To take one study out as the be all, end all is just disingenuous,” Childress said.

He said there were flaws in one study in who was included in the final numbers and the benchmarks people who used multivitamins had to meet.

Childress added the amount of nutrients people get from their diets is low, and people are mineral deficient. Childress agreed that people need to eat well.

“I think a person has to look at their diets and eat nutrient-dense food,” Childress said. “We eat a lot of processed carbohydrates ... that are nutrient-poor food.”

Tiffanie Young is a registered dietitian and diabetes educator for the Centegra Health System.

She said sometimes people need to take vitamin supplements, especially if they have restrictive diets, such as being vegetarian or vegan.

People who eat less than 1,500 calories a day, people who are age 50 and older and don’t absorb nutrients as well, or people with food allergies might need supplements.

Also someone who is healing from a surgery and has greater nutritional needs might be a candidate for vitamin supplements, Young said.

A woman who’s pregnant would take a regimen of multivitamins to help provide iron and folic acid to help with cell division, Young said.

Young also emphasized the need for a well-balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fat and low-fat dairy for the average healthy person.

Different vitamins have their own functions.

Vitamin B helps facilitate using energy correctly.

Vitamin A is good for skin and eyes. Vitamin D helps with bone strength and absorbing calcium.

But it is possible for people to take too many vitamin supplements.

If people take too many water-soluble vitamins they may be excreted out through urine, Young said.

However, taking too much vitamin D, which people may take to make up for not getting enough sunlight, can lead to higher calcium levels.

Young said that could lead to kidney problems, nausea and vomiting.

Dr. Robert Malecki, a Crystal Lake-based family practice physician with Advocate Medical Group, said the main thing people should concentrate on is having a properly balanced diet, especially having the right amount of fruits and vegetables.

Malecki added that multivitamin supplements can be useful to cover gaps in people’s diets, but people shouldn’t use multivitamins as an excuse not to eat properly.

If people are picky about what they eat, they may become deficient of certain vitamins, such as someone who is vegetarian, Malecki said.

“For picky eaters, we’re trying to have them eat properly,” Malecki said.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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