Last week chocolate was good for you and red wine was not so good. This week red wine is good for you and chocolate is only good in moderation. There is a lot of conflicting information out there about what foods, vitamins, and dietary supplements are good for us.
More and more, it is up to consumers of every age to self-educate on these matters, which is no easy task.
“It’s best to get nutrients from diet first before determining if you need dietary supplements,” said Carol Haggans, Scientific and Health Communications Consultant in the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health (www.nih.gov).
The doctor of the futureThat said, Ms. Haggans cautions that there are a few nutrients that our bodies need but that don’t get absorbed—especially as we age-- and therefore we may need to take supplements:
The Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health provides an online alphabetical list of dietary supplement fact sheets at http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/list-all/, and additional information can be found at http://ods.od.nih.gov/HealthInformation/DS_WhatYouNeedToKnow.aspx.
See our article this month on new research that shows a positive effect of vitamin E in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Duff MacKay, N.D., Vice President of Scientific & Regulatory Affairs at The Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade association for dietary supplements (www.crnusa.org), recommends that elderly people concerned about taking vitamins and dietary supplements consult their doctors as well as primary caregivers. “The elderly tend to be on more medications and have more potential for interactions,” he said. “It’s important they talk and are open with their clinician and pharmacist about what they are taking.”
Mr. MacKay noted that not all interactions between vitamins and dietary supplements with medications were negative. “Calcium is a large molecule that can compete with others for absorption into the blood,” he said.
Before taking dietary supplements, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration offers some food for thought on their website, http://www.fda.gov/Food/DietarySupplements/ConsumerInformation/ucm110493.htm:
There are a lot of dietary supplements marketed to senior citizens, Ms. Haggans conceded, and it is up to them to be wary and make informed decisions about what they should take.
“There are a lot of products marketed to elderly people that falsely claim to reduce disease risk, like cancer, heart disease,” she said. “These are red flags because dietary supplements are not cures or treatments. Seniors sometimes fall prey to that more so than others when they have concern over chronic disease.”
In short, she said, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
The bottom line is that vitamins and dietary supplements are not meant to be substitutes for medications. “With a doctor’s advice, people should take supplements to fill in a nutrient gap,” said Ms. Haggans.
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