Tufts E-News --Too Many Vitamins?
For Americans taking vitamin supplements, experts at Tufts may have some news that’s hard to swallow. Boston.
Boston [04.29.03] As many as 70 percent of Americans are currently taking supplements -- mostly vitamins - to improve their health. But while the majority of the population seems to believe that vitamins can bolster health, many in the nutrition community are not so sure. According to experts from Tufts, vitamin supplements cannot make up for a poor diet - and over consumption of some vitamins and minerals may actually be harmful.
According to Tufts' Dr. Robert M. Russell, the most popular individual vitamin supplements are C and E. But for many people, as Russell explained to The New York Times, supplements are not nutritionally necessary. And vitamins C and E do little to fight disease.
"Scientists once thought those vitamins could help prevent ailments like cancer and heart disease, but rigorous studies found no such effects," reported the Times.
Russell, the director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts and head of the Food and Nutrition Board at the National Academy of Sciences, told the Times that supplementing with these popular vitamins is not essential.
"The two vitamins that are the most not needed are the ones most often taken," Russell told the newspaper.
The popularity of vitamins C and E are just two examples of supplements that the nation is overusing - at a time when experts say that vitamin deficiency should be the least of most people's health concerns. According to experts, multivitamins have not been shown to prevent any disease.
While some vitamins such as C are excreted if consumed in excess, others such as vitamin A - another popular supplement - are stored in fat, which can lead to build up and possible health effects.
Russell says that deficiency of the vitamin A is rare because Americans eat so many foods rich in the nutrient - such as meat, fish, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals and dark-colored fruits and vegetables. According to Russell, half of a cup of cooked carrots provides the daily dose of 750 micrograms of the nutrient, making supplements -- which can provide as much as 4,500 micrograms -- unnecessary.
Another Tufts expert, Dr. Richard Wood, is concerned with nutrient over consumption as well. Wood recently completed a study which suggests that the elderly population may be overdosing on another popular nutrient - iron.
"Wood, director of the mineral bioavailability laboratory at Tufts, worries about iron overload, which can increase the risk of heart disease," reported the Times. "In a large federal research effort, the Framingham study, Dr. Wood found that 12 percent of the elderly participants had worrisome levels."
The Tufts expert - a nutritional biochemist -- said that his findings were surprising.
"Hardly anyone had iron deficiency anemia," Dr. Wood told the Times. "But 16 percent were taking iron-containing supplements."
Experts agree that no vitamin supplement can replace a healthy diet. As Russell told Newsday earlier this year, a single supplement will not lead to the benefits of proper nutrition.
"It will probably not be single nutrients alone but in combination that eventually prove the most effective in preventing the diseases of the aging," Russell said.