To Your Health
Benefits of Vitamins
Sales are up as the benefits may be going down…read this before you buy
With the recession hitting all of us hard in the wallet, more and more Americans are counting on the benefits of vitamins, stocking up and hoping to stay healthy and reduce doctor visits. Vitamin sales last October, November and December were up nearly 8 percent over the same period in 2007, according to Information Resources, a market research company. Specialty stores from The Vitamin Shoppe to Whole Foods are seeing an increase in sales, in some cases up to 20 percent.
But the scientists probably aren’t among the hordes heading for the health-food store. A variety of recent studies finds little or no disease prevention by popular vitamins. Research analyzing the effect of multivitamins on 161,000 women who participate in the Women’s Health Initiative mega-study found only minor differences in their risk of contracting cancer or cardiovascular disease, or dying from any other cause. Another study that tracked almost 15,000 men for 10 years found no difference in heart disease or cancer rates among those taking vitamins E and C and those receiving a placebo.
Multivitamins with high doses of folic acid and B vitamins did lower heart attack risk in the Women’s Health Initiative study. But before you rush to buy these nutrients, consider this: Other studies have found a higher risk of precancerous colon polyps among people who take folic acid.
Everybody knows antioxidants are good, free radicals bad, right? Not exactly. In a review of 47 trials of antioxidants reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the mortality rate was 5 percent higher among people who took antioxidants like vitamin A, beta carotene and vitamin E. In other cases, the findings are ambivalent: One study found that calcium lowered the recurrence of precancerous polyps in the colon, while another did not.
One vitamin that still looks like a winner is D. Recent research has linked D deficiency to a risk reduction for a variety of ailments, from heart disease and stroke to diabetes, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, 18 forms of cancer including breast and ovarian, digestive disorders like Crohn’s disease, depression and chronic pain. Some studies suggest it protects against colds and flu.
Scientists speculate that the disappointing results may have to do with the fact that vitamins work best when delivered in food. In fact, some are studying a new category of supplements, whole food extracts, to see if they’re more beneficial.
In the meantime, research suggests that the real answer is eating well–lots of fruits and vegetables, plenty of whole grains, not so much salt, sugar and fat, particularly saturated fats. I’m not giving up my calcium/D pills to strengthen my bones, but otherwise I’m going to spend my money in the produce section rather than the vitamin aisle.