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Posted by Elizebath Bijoy Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Washington:  Two studies last week raised gnawing worries about the safety of vitamin supplements and a host of questions. Should anyone be taking them? Which ones are most risky? And if you do take them, how can you pick the safest ones?
Vitamins have long had a "health halo." Many people think they're good for you and at worst might simply be unnecessary.
Our foods are increasingly pumped full of them already. Even junk foods and drinks often are fortified with nutrients, so the risk is rising that we're getting too much. Add a supplement and you may exceed the upper limit. "We're finding out they're not as harmless as the industry might have us believe," said David Schardt, a nutritionist at the US consumer group Centre for Science in the Public Interest.
Last week, a study of nearly 40,000 older women found a slightly higher risk of death among those taking dietary supplements.
Natural sources
Another study found that men taking high doses of vitamin E - 400 units a day - for five years had a slightly increased risk of prostate cancer. There is no clear evidence that multivitamins lower the risk of cancer, heart disease or any other chronic health problems. The best way to get vitamins is to eat foods that naturally contain them, said Jody Engel, a nutritionist with Office of Dietary Supplements.
Some folks may need more of certain nutrients and should talk with their doctors about supplements — Postmenopausal women regarding calcium and vitamin D to protect bones; women planning on pregnancy regarding folate, or folic acid, to prevent birth defects; people over age 50 and vegans who may need vitamin B12; pregnant women, who may need extra iron; breastfed infants and possibly other infants concerning vitamin D.
What the experts say:
Keep it simple. The more ingredients there are in a supplement combo, the more chance that one of them will not be the right amount.
Consider a supplement combo tailored to your gender and age.
Multivitamins often contain little iron, and ones for seniors give more calcium and vitamin D than products aimed at younger adults.
Take vitamin D with dinner. It is absorbed more when consumed with the largest meal.
Watch out for vitamin K. It promotes clotting and can interfere with common heart medicines and blood thinners.
Current and former smokers are advised to avoid multivitamins with lots of beta-carotene or vitamin A as it raises lung cancer risk in them.
For cancer patients, vitamins C and E might reduce the effectiveness of certain types of chemotherapy.
People having surgery should know that some vitamins can affect bleeding and response to anaesthesia.


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