The recommendations regarding vitamins and supplements seem to go in and out of style like oversized purses and leopard print shoes. In the ‘70s, vitamin C was hot; in the 90s, it was vitamin E. The popularity of vitamins even landed them on Time magazine’s April 6, 1992 cover article entitled, “The Real Power of Vitamins: New Research Shows They May Help Fight Cancer, Heart Disease and the Ravages of Aging.”
But numerous studies have proven that vitamin C alone doesn’t cure the common cold, and vitamin E isn’t a cure-all either. Actually, antioxidant supplements, like vitamins C and E, can reduce the effectiveness of some medical treatments like chemotherapy. “There’s a lot of controversy and confusion around the benefits of vitamin supplements. The studies are changing all the time,” says Virtua family doctor Elaine Beppel, MD.
What’s true is that women who have a healthy diet likely don’t need a lot of vitamins. But, people who don’t get enough vitamins and minerals from food alone, such as strict vegetarians or vegans or those on low-calorie diets, fall into a different category.
"I don’t advocate multi-vitamins. They’re really for women who don’t eat a well-balanced diet. If you don’t eat a lot of fruits and vegetables but overload on carbs, then you’re a candidate for supplements,” explains Dr. Beppel.
Following are the vitamins and supplements getting the most attention now.
Vitamin D3: This is essential for absorbing calcium and may prevent breast cancer.
- The daily recommended dose is 1000-2000 mg per day.
B12 and B-complex vitamins: Recommended for women over age 50 by the National Institutes of Health, these are touted for improving mood disorders and reducing stress.
- The daily recommended dose is 1000 mcg per day.
Fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and co-enzyme Q10: For a healthy person, these offer numerous benefits, which include decreasing bad cholesterol, reducing inflammation in the body and improving rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. But, for someone who’s on blood thinners, they can be dangerous. Before supplementing with them, you MUST check with your doctor.
- The daily recommended dose is 1000-1200 mg per day.
Dr. Beppel cautions against supplementing with these vitamins unless you’re under the strict care of a doctor.
Iron: Iron is often only recommended for women with heavy menstrual cycles.
- Postmenopausal women run the risk of damaging their livers and hearts by taking iron that has not been prescribed.
- Even though it’s readily available in many over-the-counter doses, it should only be taken under a physician’s advice.
Vitamin K: This can reduce the ability of the blood thinners like Coumadin to prevent blood from clotting.
St. John's Wort: This herbal supplement can speed the breakdown of many drugs including antidepressants and birth control pills, thereby reducing the drug’s effectiveness.
Of course, before starting or stopping any vitamin regimen, you should consult with your own doctor first.
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Physician Profile: Elaine Beppel, MD, Virtua family doctor