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Extra Vitamins?

By Jock Simon, M.D., Attending Physician at 75th St. & 126th St. Medical, Ocean Pines Medical & Doctors Weight Control & Wellness centers, Ocean City, MD.

People are usually at a loss when it comes to deciding if, when, and how much multivitamin and mineral supplementation are necessary to live healthier lives. Most experts agree that the optional way to get all the nutrients one needs is to eat a balanced diet. However, studies have shown that numerous dietary and nondietary factors may at times play a significant role in producing nutritional deficiencies in otherwise healthy adults.

The RDAs (recommended daily dietary allowances) are the levels of intake of essential nutrients that, on the basis of scientific knowledge, are judged to be adequate to meet the known nutrient needs of practically all healthy persons; these standards are helpful in evaluating a patient's dietary needs from infancy through adulthood.

By frequently skipping meals, eating nutrient-poor, processed foods, or dieting to lose weight, our vitamin and mineral levels may be depleted. Age, health, as well as drinking and smoking, may also adversely influence these levels.

Nutritional needs will fluctuate with the age of the person. Neonates and infants have special needs. Also, adolescents experience a sustained period of growth and development, and nutritional gaps in the diet may need to be augmented by exogenous sources. During middle age and beyond, significant changes in appetite, mounting dental problems, and malabsorption from the gastrointestinal tract may occur, several conditions which potentially could make healthy eating difficult.

Surgery and injuries increase our body's demand for several nutrients, notably vitamin C and zinc. Medicines that interfere with our body's ability to use certain vitamins and minerals or that have a damaging effect on nutrition increase the need for nutritional supplement. Women have additional nutritional needs during heavy menstruation, pregnancy, and breast feeding, i.e. vit B1, B6, B12, folic acid, iron, and calcium.

Research has shown that smokers have lower vitamin C levels in their blood as opposed to nonsmokers. Heavy alcohol consumers demonstrate relative vitamin deficiencies, including vitamin B1, B6, C, D, and folic acid; these conditions are often exacerbated by associated poor dietary habits.

Superfluous and overzealous administration of vitamins and minerals is not without inherent risks and provides ample opportunity for misuse. To this end, adequate screening and optimal dosing is essential to avoid adverse effects. Supplementation should not be considered an excuse or an alternative for poor dietary habits; the first and most appropriate source of nutrition should be the food that we elect to eat.

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