Vitamin Secrets: Interesting Truths and Odd Myths You Need to Know

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Vitamin hype – to swallow, or not to swallow, them? That’s the real question with all the health claims around. We spoke with Renown Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, Catherine Pinkston, MS, DO, to clear up the confusion.  

Supplement Crazy

Surprisingly, Americans spend over $36 billion on dietary supplements per year. And 77 percent of Americans use them, according to a recent Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) survey. For this reason, a variety of supplements are constantly jockeying for top position.

With an aging population and everyone wanting to “optimize” their life, the vitamin conversations – Are you getting enough? Do they really help? Is it all marketing? – flow freely. It seems everyone has a story, or an opinion, on vitamin intake.

Pinkston agrees, “Of course I get many patients asking me about vitamins at their appointments, which is great. This allows me to clear up evidence-based research from mere talk.” She breaks down some of her most common questions below.

Can You Test My Vitamin Levels?

This is a tricky, yet common, question Pinkston often receives. “Generally there is not enough information regarding vitamin levels and how they pertain to health,” she says.

To complicate matters ‘normal’ blood levels do not always equal adequate intake. For example, you may test normal for calcium, but actually not be getting enough. “Your body does everything it can to keep your calcium level in the normal range. Which means it may be stealing calcium from your bones to ensure your blood calcium is normal,” Pinkston adds.

Will Vitamin C Help My Cold?

You need vitamin C for: wound healing, immune function and as an antioxidant (protects  cells from damage).

“The answer is maybe,” answers Pinkston.“Preventative use of vitamin C modestly reduced the duration of a cold by 8% in adults and 14% in children. Trials involving marathon runners, skiers and those exposed to extreme exercise and/or cold environments also found preventative use reduced colds by 50%,” she reveals.

What about drinking orange juice and taking extra vitamin C after your cold starts? Although there are studies showing the benefits of preventative use, she cautions, “It is not effective after the onset of a cold.”

Recommended Dietary Allowance :
Males – 90 mg/day
Females – 75 mg/day
Smokers – add 35 mg/day to the amount above

Although citrus fruits are well-known for their vitamin C, there are many other foods high in it. Other foods high in vitamin C include: kiwis, parsley, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

Will a Vitamin B12 Help Me Lose Weight?

It sounds appealing to get a shot in the arm to lose weight, but can it be that easy? Pinkston gives us the bad news, “Vitamin B12 injections do not help with weight loss.”

“If you are not deficient in the vitamin, you will lose the excess in your urine and waste your money, so be sure to get your levels checked first,” she adds. “However, the shots can help if you have a lab confirmed deficiency, especially if there is a reason you do not absorb B12 well.”

Vitamin B12 is necessary for: cell formation, nerve function and fat metabolism.

Recommended Dietary Allowance: 2.4 micrograms a day

Sources for B12 include: fish, meat, eggs and milk. It is naturally found in animal products, not plants. Vegetarians may find it helpful to include fortified foods, such as cereals or grains into their diets.

Pinkston states, “A lack of vitamin B12 can cause anemia, fatigue, numbness, tingling, loss of balance, sore mouth, confusion and dementia. Long term it can cause irreversible nerve damage.”

The jury is still out on taking it to improve cognition. “Although low levels have been associated with cognitive decline, studies show B12 treatment did not improve cognition,” she cautions.

Common Reasons for B12 Deficiency include:

– pernicious anemia (inability to absorb B12 in the gut)
– low stomach acid or intestinal disorders
– excess alcohol intake
– vegan or vegetarian diet
– bariatric or intestinal surgeries

Do I Need a Calcium Supplement?

“Probably not,” says Pinkston. “It’s true that adequate calcium intake is very important, but get it from your diet. Those on calcium supplementation have an increased risk for coronary artery calcification.” 

“Consider vitamin D and calcium partners because they work together,” says Pinkston. “You need both for strong bones. Unfortunately at least half of adults with hip fractures are low in vitamin D.”

Calcium Recommended Dietary Allowance:

Men age 51-70 years – 1000 mg/day
Men 70 + years – 1200 mg/day
Women 50+ years – 1200 mg/day

There are many calcium-rich foods including: dairy, leafy green vegetables, beans and fortified foods such as juices or grains.

As a mineral, calcium is essential for many functions in your body. In addition to bone health it is needed for muscle contraction, blood clotting, nerve function and regulating your heart beat.

Vitamin D Recommended Dietary Allowance:

Age 50 – 70 years – 600 IU/day
Age 70 + – 800 IU/day

Sources include fatty fish, dairy, fortified foods and, of course, sunlight.

“Adequate vitamin D is important. It can help prevent osteoporosis (bone loss), especially in women, those with a history of chronic steroid use and people with mobility issues.” comments Pinkston.

Remember to let your doctor and pharmacist know of any (and all) supplements you are taking. You may not be aware of all the drug interaction issues. An interaction can make a drug less effective, cause an unwanted side effect or increase the action of a drug. 

RELATED: A Dietitian Gives the Skinny on Your Coffee Break

If you’re not feeling your best and don’t know why, maybe it’s time to discuss your health concerns with a doctor.

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