General Guidelines For Vitamin Supplements

What are vitamins and why are they important?

Vitamins are organic substances that are essential for the proper growth and functioning of the body. Unlike protein, fat, and carbohydrates, vitamins provide no calories. However, they are necessary (in small amounts) for normal chemical reactions (metabolism) inside the body. Vitamins must be obtained from food because the body cannot produce them. (The exception is vitamin D, which can be produced by the skin when it is exposed to the sun). If the intake of vitamin(s) is insufficient due to poor nutrition, restricted diets, or inadequate intestinal absorption of the vitamins, diseases can occur.

Here are general guidelines to follow:

  • Eat at least 5 servings of vegetables and fruits daily. Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and are rich in vitamin C and other antioxidant vitamins.

  • Women in childbearing years should take a multivitamin that contains at least 400 micrograms of folic acid daily for the prevention of neural tube birth defects.

  • Adults and elderly should take one multivitamin daily. One multivitamin a day is safe and inexpensive. The multivitamin should contain 400 micrograms of folic acid, and RDA levels of other vitamins. (The folic acid and vitamins B-6 and B-12 can help lower homocysteine. The vitamin D is important in preventing and treating osteoporosis).

  • People with an inadequate amount of calcium in their diet should consider calcium supplements.

  • Eat less cholesterol and saturated fats, stop smoking cigarettes, control high blood pressure and diabetes, lose excess weight, and exercise regularly.

  • Adults should check their blood cholesterol profile (LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol).

  • Vitamin E (400 IU/day) is recommended for patients with small LDL cholesterol particles and elevated Lp(a) cholesterol to help decrease oxidation of these cholesterol particles. Vitamin E may also prevent prostate cancer.

  • Patients with an early onset of atherosclerosis and heart attacks should check their blood levels of homocysteine. (Normal levels of blood homocysteine are 6- 10umol/liter for women and 8-12 umol/liter for men). A doctor experienced in treating coronary heart disease should supervise the treatment of hyperhomocysteinemia because treatment may involve using higher doses of folic acid and vitamins B-6 and B-12 than RDA.

For more information, please read  the Vitamin and Calcium Supplements article.


Last Editorial Review: 4/16/2003



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