In a country where food is plentiful and affordable, you have to wonder why so many people opt to scarf down pills instead of just plain food.
Many people consider vitamin and mineral supplements a quick and easy way to get nutrients without so much shopping and kitchen time and without all the pesky fat and sugars in food. Others take supplements as nutritional insurance (for more on recommended dietary allowances of vitamins and minerals, see Chapter 4). And some even use supplements as substitutes for medical drugs. In general, nutrition experts, including the American Dietetic Association, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Research Council, prefer that you invest your time and money whipping up meals and snacks that supply the nutrients you need in a balanced, tasty diet. Nonetheless, every expert worth his or her vitamin C admits that in certain circumstances, supplements can be a definite plus.
In 2002, the American Medical Association (AMA), which for decades had turned thumbs down on vitamin supplements, changed its collective mind after a review of 26 years' worth of scientific studies relating vitamin levels to the risk of chronic illness. Robert H. Fletcher and Kathleen M. Fairfield, the Harvard-based authors of the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), said, yes, true vitamin-deficiency diseases such as scurvy and beriberi are rare in Western countries. But suboptimal vitamin levels — sciencespeak for slightly less than you need — are a real problem. If "slightly less than you need" sounds slightly less than important, consider this:
i Suboptimal vitamin D intake means a higher risk of rickets and osteoporosis.
i Suboptimal levels of antioxidant vitamins A, E, and C are linked to a particular form of heart disease and some forms of cancer.
Hence the new AMA rule: "It's prudent for all adults to take vitamin supplements."
But just as that bit of info was settling in, a new study (you can read more about this in Chapter 10) said, "Hold it! There's too much Vitamin A in that pill!" That was followed by more new research on too much vitamin E. As you read this, vitamin manufacturers are tumbling over each other in the race to get new, lower formulations to market.
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