Can Vitamin Supplements Bridge the Gap?
Despite a booming supplement industry, Tufts nutritionists say it is still unclear whether taking vitamins can make up for poor nutrition. Boston.
Boston [04.01.04] In the last five years, the vitamin supplement industry increased more than 34 percent - lining supermarket shelves with everything from multivitamins to calcium chews. But according to Tufts nutrition experts, the jury is still out on whether the supplements - a $19 billion dollar a year industry - can replace proper dietary habits.
"Since the dawn of time, we've done very well without vitamin supplements," Lichtenstein, the Stanley N. Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts' Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy told the Providence Journal. "We grew, we reproduced, we survived as a species."
Lichtenstein says that while good dietary habits are a tried and true method of getting proper nutrition, scientists do not yet have enough information on whether supplements are a suitable method of vitamin intake.
"We don't have good data on dietary supplements," Lichtenstein told the Journal. "We have good data on good eating."
But Tufts' Jeffrey Blumberg, professor at the Friedman School, says some supplements may be useful in some cases.
According to Blumberg - associate director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts (HNRCA) - supplements are especially important for women who are unable to eat enough calcium-rich foods to prevent osteoporosis.
"Blumberg adds that women who don't eat many dairy products should also take a calcium supplement with vitamin D," reported the Journal.
But Blumberg - and chief of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the HNRCA - agrees with Lichtenstein that many people who take supplements don't necessarily need them.
"Blumberg thinks that taking a multivitamin might actually mean you need it less," reported the Journal. "That's because, he says, people who regularly take multivitamins usually eat pretty well, too."
"Proactive behaviors cluster together," Blumberg told the newspaper, noting that those who take vitamins are also more likely to follow nutrition guidelines, get regular check-ups and refrain from smoking.
But these people are in the minority. According to Blumberg, about 80 percent of Americans do not eat the five recommended servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
"American diets, by and large, are just awful," Blumberg told the Journal. "We're eating energy-dense, nutrient-empty food."
There is some evidence indicating that vitamins may provide a long term benefit for those who take them.
A panel of 19 leading health and nutrition experts co-chaired by Blumberg recently found that "a daily multivitamin-and-mineral tablet could help adults enhance immunity and reduce their risks of such chronic diseases as osteoporosis, heart disease and colon cancer," reported Newsweek.
The Tufts nutritionist says that getting people to take a multivitamin could also be the first step to improving the nation's nutritional awareness.
"If we can convince people to take a multivitamin, maybe it will make them think a little more about their diets," Blumberg told the Journal.