Think before you pop in supplements like food. They may not be as good as you think says new evidence.

Medicines we know have side-effects. Most of us know about statins and neuro prescriptions or the gastro impact of frequent aspirins. But, even vitamins are not safe? Results from new trials seem to say so. Rather than be of any help, many multi-vitamin supplements could even do you harm.

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The randomised control trials and meta-analyses suggest that vitamins like vit E and beta carotene increase mortality while those like vit A and C have no benefits! Even the miracle boy Vitamin D has been indicted in increasing risk of falls among those taking it in high doses.

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Vitamin supplements are the new magic potions being prescribed by doctors and nutritionists. More so in the west, but also slowly picking up everywhere else. Cross 50 and the average middle class person is popping in some or the other vitamin, catering to some probable deficiency.

It stands to reason too in these times of adulteration and inflation, food is no more what our grandparents consumed. If it doesn’t lack the nutrients, then chances are that it is prohibitively costly to be consumed in quantities desired.

Vitamin D And Risk Of Falls
The next best thing then is to take a supplement which boasts of all the required doses of good stuff the body needs. Many of us today are on the vitamin b, c and d bandwagon. Vitamin D in fact is an upcoming favourite, given its importance in not only bone strength, but also in keeping away cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Found in very foods besides fish and fortified milk, the vitamin is produced when sunlight strikes the skin. But since most of us remain indoors these days, Vitamin d has to be supplemented, and in very huge doses often.

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Low vitamin D levels are just a marker of the disease rather than cause of it, says a new study. Two randomised trials have found that at around 40,000 to 60,000 units per month Vitamin D effectively increased the risk of falls. The current practice to prevent the vitamin deficiency is to recommend such high doses four times a month and for two months!

So also with Vitamin B. Deficiencies in the vitamin (especially B12) result in a range of issues like fatigue, depression, heart palpitations, dizziness, bleeding of gums, etc. The NIH in fact recommends that adults over 50 years take a daily dose of 25-100 milligrams of vitamin B12 supplement, or consume foods fortified with vitamin B12.

Back in 2012 itself, analysis of around 38,772 women over 25 years, found that the overall risk of death increased with long-term use of multivitamins, vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc, and copper.

This is the case also with vitamins A, C and E where risks for diseases actually went up with consumption of the vitamins.

Free Radicals Not So Bad
Vitamins A, C, E, beta-carotene, and folic acid (part of the vitamin B range) belong to a class of molecules known as anti-oxidants that target the free radicals. But now there is a different line of thinking which sees these radicals as essential for good health!

Following a 28 % increase in lung cancer rates and 17% increase in deaths from taking beta-carotene and vitamin A, a study had to be terminated.

Calcium supplements are often taken in generous overdoses by people who believe that more the better for their ageing bones. But emerging evidence shows a strong association between calcium supplement intake and heart disease risk.

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After analyzing 10 years of medical tests on more than 2,700 people researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine recently concluded that taking calcium in the form of supplements may raise the risk of plaque build-up in arteries and heart damage, while also noting that a diet high in calcium-rich foods appears be protective.

Eating too many calcium supplements?
This is not to claim that the supplements cause heart problems but that the calcium in this form does not make it to the skeleton or get completely excreted in the urine, and hence could be accumulating in the body’s soft tissues.

Around the same time, a research review commissioned by the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF), refuted the above conclusions saying that the evidence doesn’t support a connection between calcium supplements and heart disease. It is only when the intake is beyond recommended doses that there could be a problem.

For now, medical professionals would rather go with calcium supplements especially with people who run a deficiency.

So What To Do ?

Yes, our body needs vitamins. Best option for now seems to be to get it from our natural food. But even these are deficient in nutrients as the soil gets depleted by frequent sowing, says Dr Uma Narayan, nutrition and wellness consultant. That is where supplements made from natural food instead of synthesised chemicals are best option.  The best source of antioxidants should be from food, she says, citing Nutrilite products from Amway. “These supplements are  concentrated from plain pure food grown without using pesticides and fertilisers,she says. “.

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But for those who cannot afford supplements for whatever reason, food is the best bet. Vitamin A is present in bright yellow and orange fruits and vegetables. Get your dose of the vitamin from a quarter cup of sweet potatoes, a third of a cup of butternut squash, half a medium-sized carrot, a cup of kale or two cups of spinach or fortified sources, like most breakfast cereals, which however contain only about 10 percent of the recommended dose.

Vitamin E is got from wheat germ, dark leafy vegetables, various nuts and seeds, and vegetable oils and your calcium from three cups of milk and two cups of yogurt or tofu.

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