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Answers to Questions About Vitamins & Minerals

If you've never taken supplements -- or if you take them now and want to make sure you're getting maximum benefits this page will help answer some commonly asked questions. Additionally, it will provide you with basic information on selecting the appropriate supplement to meet your needs and explain how to read a supplement label.

Now that I've decided to take a vitamin supplement, how do I know which ones I need?

When choosing a supplement, it is important to consider your age, individual lifestyle and dietary habits. With some basic knowledge about vitamins and minerals, you can develop your own nutritional profile which will help you assess your needs. In developing your profile, ask yourself these questions:

How well do I eat? Do l select foods high in vitamins and minerals? Do I eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day? Am I dieting or watching my calorie and fat intake? Do I smoke? Am I over 50 years old? Am I taking medication(s) on a regular basis? Am I pregnant or trying to become pregnant? Are there other health circumstances that may affect my nutrient needs?

To start, you may want to select a multivitamin and mineral supplement. If you're a woman of childbearing age, be sure your multivitamin includes folic acid to reduce the risk of having a baby with a neural tube birth defect.

Women also need extra calcium and iron since these nutrients often fall short in the diet.

You may also want to include a daily antioxidant supplement containing vitamins C and E and beta carotene, which are marketed individually as well as in combined formulas

How much of each nutrient is recommended?

Most vitamin supplement labels indicate the quantity of each nutrient and the percent of the government's recommended daily intake contained in the product. This recommended amount is based on the National Academy of Sciences Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).

For some nutrients, public health authorities and scientists recommend levels above the RDA. These include 400 mcg of folic acid for women of childbearing age to help reduce the risk of neural tube birth defects and daily calcium of no less than 1,000 mg for teens and most adults, and 1,500 mg for post menopausal women to help reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis. Many scientists who have studied the role of antioxidant vitamins believe that the following levels are safe and may provide a protective effect: 6-15 mg beta carotene, 250-500 mg vitamin C, and 100-400 IU of vitamin E.

How should I store my supplements?

You should store your supplements in a cool, dry place that is away from direct heat and light. Keep supplements, especially those containing iron which can be dangerous at excessive levels out of children's reach and close the cap tightly.

Why is the expiration date important?

The manufacturer provides an expiration date on the label as a guide to consumers to ensure full potency through a given period.

When is the best time of the day to take supplements?

lt doesn't matter what time of day you take your supplements. Taking them at the same time every day helps you to establish a routine. For many people, taking their supplements at mealtime proves to be convenient. It is also wise to consume supplements at mealtime rather than on an empty stomach, since they function in combination with nutrients in food. Supplements should also be taken with a full glass of liquid for the best absorption.

How safe is it to consume vitamins and minerals and who regulates these products?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has full authority to assure the safety of nutritional supplements and to enforce the accuracy and truthfulness of label statements. Decades of use by millions of people demonstrates that supplements have an excellent safety record. Although most vitamins have a wide range of safety, misuse or overuse should be avoided.

Some nutrients can be toxic at high levels, such as vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B-6, niacin, and iron. The recommended levels on supplement labels should be followed, and you should be aware of your total intake if you consume more than one product.

Can I be assured of the quality of supplements?

Manufacturers have internal quality standards and follow good manufacturing practices. In addition USP, which stands for the United States Pharmacopeia, establishes standards for strength, quality, purity, packaging, labeling and storage of nutritional supplements. USP also publishes good manufacturing guidelines for supplement makers to follow.

Can taking medications affect my nutrient needs?

Many over-the-counter and prescription drugs, such as certain diuretics and anticoagulants, can interfere with the absorption and metabolism of vitamins and minerals, thereby reducing the level of nutrients available to your body. You may need to increase your intake of vitamins and minerals to make up for this loss. Check with your physician or pharmacist to obtain information on any potential drug-nutrient interactions prior to taking medications.

Can good nutritional status lower health care costs?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates substantial health care cost savings from health promotion and disease prevention, including better dietary habits. It has been estimated that an average annual savings of 1.5-2.0 billion dollars could result from just 20 percent fewer hip fractures which could be reduced by increasing calcium and vitamin D intake, even in post menopausal women.

Results of an economic analysis showed that if antioxidants could reduce the risk of certain diseases, as some studies indicate, consumption of optimal levels could save 8.7 billion dollars a year. This savings would come from reduced hospitalizations resulting from five major diseases: cardiovascular disease, cataracts, and breast, lung, and stomach cancers.

What if I have questions about what to buy?

Your pharmacist or other appropriate health professional is a good information resource and can assist you in making your selection.

Scientific evidence supporting the role of vitamins and minerals in promoting good health and reducing the risk of disease is rapidly mounting. Making healthy dietary choices, including the appropriate use of nutritional supplements, should be part of a healthy lifestyle.


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