From A to zinc, 9 things you need to know about vitamins and supplements

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FEATURE — The internet is a great source of information on a lot of things, but there is so much disinformation about vitamins that it’s hard to figure out what is legit and what isn’t. Go to a pharmacy sometime and you’ll know why — it’s a billion dollar industry.

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The best place to get information is from someone with no dog in the fight. I use the National Institute of Health as a resource. They are very impartial. Since vitamins and supplements are everywhere, let’s test your knowledge in this nine-question quiz and maybe save you some worry and some money:

1. Is it healthy to take a multivitamin every day, just in case my diet is lacking in something?

Unless you live in a developing nation or on a pirate ship, you get all of the vitamins you need from your regular diet. Vitamin deficiency diseases are very rare.

2. What vitamin do vegetarians often lack?

Vitamin B-12. Lack of B-12 can cause anemia. Taking extra B-12 if you don’t need it doesn’t give you energy or burn calories. Extra B-12 does absolutely nothing. Don’t waste your money.

3. Do antioxidants prevent cancer?

They almost certainly do not. Not the ones you can buy, anyway. There is an enormous amount of data showing none of them work.

4. What’s the deal with vitamin D and the sun?

Vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption and metabolism. Sunlight stimulates vitamin D production in the skin, which is then further modified in the liver and the kidney to produce activated, hydroxylated vitamin D.  You only need a little bit of sun on a small area of your body to produce the activated vitamin D that you need.

As an interesting aside, vitamin D is one that is lacking in many women in Saudi Arabia, as they often wear a burka when outdoors and have no sun exposure indoors.

5. Speaking of vitamin D, you need to take that and calcium after menopause to prevent fracture, correct?

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Possibly, but not absolutely yes. This is one of those things that gets repeated so much we take it as scripture, but the data is actually not there. Studies show that while calcium and vitamin D do seem to increase bone density, there isn’t much data that shows they prevent fracture.

There are also definite problems associated with taking too much calcium. When taken in the recommended doses, it will do no harm and probably helps. But be aware that the data is still lacking on fracture prevention.

6. Does vitamin A improve your eyesight?

It doesn’t, unfortunately. And too much vitamin A can be very harmful.

7. Probiotics. Good? Bad?

They have been documented to help certain diseases in certain people. But as something that will benefit the majority — the evidence isn’t there. Another problem is that they are not moderated by the FDA, so quality can vary.

If you want to try it for varied gastrointestinal but don’t want to spend a lot of money, try Greek yogurt instead.

8. Can you take St. John’s Wort for mild depression?

Yes! It is one of the few herbal medicines that has been well-studied and found to be safe and helpful with mild depression. If you take a lot of other medication, run it by your pharmacist first.

9. Extra zinc, vitamin E, selenium — beneficial, right?

They are not. Zinc lozenges at the start of a cold are documented to be somewhat helpful. But taken daily, none of these have shown to be beneficial.


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