Are you healthy? Do you eat good healthy food including lots of fresh vegetables and fruit? If so, then you might think that you do not need to take vitamins. I would suggest taking a high quality broad spectrum multi-vitamin with moderately high dosages of many special nutrients. Why? Most once a day multi-vitamins contain dosages at the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) levels that were used to prevent a deficiency of vitamins and minerals.
Scientific studies have shown that the usual multi-vitamins at RDA levels have little or no effect on heart disease and mortality. The RDA levels were never designed for optimal health prevention. Here is the critical point–are supplements of vitamins and minerals clinically beneficial at dosages above RDA and above what can be obtained from food? I say YES!!! The following scientific studies showed clinical benefits as well as long term safety using higher dosages than RDA and above levels obtained from food. In addition, nutritional supplements from capsules are better absorbed by the body than the same nutrients from food.
Regarding cancer, selenium is part of our body’s major antioxidant enzyme called glutathione peroxidase. There are numerous scientific studies showing that the higher the blood or tissue level of selenium in humans the less likelihood of having cancer. There was a clinical trial published in the prestigious medical journal JAMA (1996) with 1312 people for an average time of four and a half years comparing selenium 200 mcg with placebo (a pill without selenium). Those who took each day selenium 200 mcg, which is known to be a safe dosage, had a 50 percent lower mortality from cancer as compared to those who took a placebo pill. Note that our usual dietary intake of selenium from food is approximately 50 mcg. Thus the scientific evidence is solid for suggesting that we add extra selenium in a pill above that which we get from food.
Macular degeneration, which affects our high resolution vision in the central region in the retina of the eye, is the most frequent cause of blindness in elderly people. A placebo-controlled clinical study called AREDS #8 showed that taking moderately high dose antioxidants (vitamin C 500 mg, vitamin E 400 IU, beta-carotene and zinc) reduced the likelihood of the macular degeneration progressing to a worse state of vision. Lutein is the major antioxidant that is highly concentrated in the macula of the retina. Scientific studies show that lutein (6-20 mg) from supplements are clinically helpful for people with macular degeneration. The average daily dietary intake of lutein is a little less than 2 mg. Thus these scientific studies suggest that for optimal health prevention for our eyes we need to take more vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc and lutein than our diet contains.
Coronary artery disease (heart disease) is the number one cause of death for both men and women. The likelihood of heart disease is markedly increased as blood levels of homocysteine increase above 7 micromoles per liter. Compared to the optimal levels below 7, the average adult American’s homocysteine level is 10, with about 35 percent increased risk of heart disease. Elderly people have an average homocysteine level of 12 together with a higher risk of heart disease. Thus most people have levels of homocysteine that significantly increase the likelihood of heart disease. Many human studies have shown that taking supplements with high dosages of folic acid, vitamin B6 and/or vitamin B12 can lower the blood level of homocysteine.
A placebo-controlled clinical study published in JAMA (2002; 288: 973-9) with 553 patients after coronary angioplasty (using a balloon to increase the size of the heart’s arteries) showed that treatment for one year with folic acid 1,000 mcg, vitamin B6 10 mg, together with vitamin B12 400 mcg in one pill per day significantly decreased by 32 percent the likelihood of death, a heart attack, or need for repeat coronary artery revascularization. These findings raise the possibility that all adults may benefit by taking supplements of folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 to lower homocysteine blood levels and hopefully to reduce the likelihood of having heart disease. The dosages of selenium, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, lutein, folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 used in these scientific studies were all higher than what we can obtain with a healthy diet and higher than RDA levels. This is the critical point – we can optimize our health prevention by taking higher dosages of selected vitamins and minerals.
There are expensive antioxidant phytonutrients including coenzyme Q10, acetyl L-carnitine, alpha lipoic acid, quercetin (the major bioflavonoid in our food), green tea extract, grape seed extract and Ginkgo biloba extract which have much more antioxidant activity than vitamin C and vitamin E. Furthermore, these antioxidants have a synergistic effect when taken together. Placebo-controlled human clinical studies with coenzyme Q10 and acetyl L-carnitine and epidemiological studies with quercetin and green tea suggest that these potent phytonutrients may protect the heart. Furthermore, these phytonutrients have been shown in scientific studies in animals and/or humans to also protect the brain. The beneficial levels of antioxidants from green tea can be obtained by drinking several cups of green tea a day. However, optimal levels of all of the other phytonutrients can only be obtained by using supplements.
I deeply believe in scientific research and would like to see more clinical studies of nutritional supplements. Meanwhile, given my interest in optimal health, I have been taking multi-vitamins with antioxidants for 10 years as well as recommending them to my family, friends and patients. I suggest that all adults take optimal amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. You should search to decide what type of multi-vitamin is appropriate for you including dosages higher than RDA as well as a variety of powerful antioxidant phytonutrients. In summary, I suggest you take an excellent multi-vitamin containing many antioxidants with levels higher than RDA in order to have optimal health prevention.
References & Further Reading: