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Vitamins: A Part of the Total Health Package

December 07, 2010

Physicians, Dietitians Discuss Vitamin Supplements During InHealth Segment

This month on Washington Hospital’s InHealth Channel on Comcast Channel 78, members of Washington Hospital’s medical staff and Washington Hospital staff dietitians will take an in-depth look at a potentially confusing subject: vitamin supplements.

Part of the Your Concerns InHealth programming, the segment premiered last week and will continue airing this month, focusing on the merits of taking vitamin supplements, how to choose the appropriate ones, as well as when and how to use them for optimal health benefits.

The segment opens with a description of the benefits of vitamins, organic compounds that are necessary for proper health and function.

"In short, vitamins are essential for life," says Barbara Kostick, M.D., a family physician on the Washington Hospital medical staff and InHealth’s television host.

Essential vitamins are found naturally in foods, but during the past couple of decades the popularity of manufactured supplements has exploded and Dr. Kostick points out that most people, while curious about vitamin supplements, are confused about exactly how to use them effectively.

Dr. Steven A. Curran, M.D., a family practice physician on the Washington Hospital medical staff, and Anna Mazzei and Lorie Roffelsen, both registered dietitians at Washington Hospital, join Dr. Kostick for this televised discussion in which each member of the panel shares his or her unique insights about vitamins, including benefits and risks.

"Vitamins are vital amines, organic compounds that our body needs that in most cases we can’t make on our own," explains Dr. Curran.

For this reason, we need to obtain essential nutrients—vitamins and minerals—from the foods we eat and, under the right circumstances, supplements.

Dr. Curran, Mazzei and Roffelsen all agree that while supplements can be useful, it’s important to get the right amounts by not ingesting more than the recommended daily allowances (RDA) unless otherwise directed by your physician.

"It’s a fluid process," Dr. Curran says of governmental recommended RDAs. "The recommended daily allowances are constantly changing and are often set at minimums to prevent disease."

Because of this, it’s important to discuss your individual needs with your physician and get the latest information before purchasing a supplement. Roffelsen points out that if you want a one-size-fits-all multivitamin, it’s best not to go overboard, since more isn’t always better.

"If your wanting to add a multivitamin to your regimen, we usually recommend choosing one that’s at RDA levels and not at mega-dose levels," she says.

When choosing a vitamin supplement, Roffelsen has a few basic guidelines:

  • Look for an approval stamp from the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) for good manufacturing processes.
  • Do some research on Web sites like ConsumerLab (www.consumerlab.com) and NSF International (www.nsf.org).
  • Ask your physician for a brand that he or she recommends.

During the segment, Dr. Curran, Mazzei and Roffelsen also discuss specific vitamins that can lead to dangerous overdoses if taken in excess.

"On occasion we see vitamin toxicity," Dr. Curran says. "With niacin, we frequently use that as a pharmaceutical medication to treat a cholesterol problem and it has a narrow therapeutic window. Anything above 2,000 milligrams can result in liver and blood sugar problems."

Other vitamins that can lead to overdose issues if taken in excess include Vitamins A, D, E and K.

"So there is too much of a good thing," concludes Dr. Kostick.

Additionally, the panelists discuss some of the hot ticket vitamins and supplements that have been generating a lot of press lately, including Vitamin D, which Dr. Curran calls "the darling child of the supplement world."

Dr. Kostick points out that the supplement industry is a $25 billion business and the value of supplements depend greatly on individual needs. People with certain vitamin deficiencies, due to factors like diet and age, may benefit more from supplements than others who may not necessarily need a multivitamin for better health.

"Look at your whole lifestyle," Mazzei suggests. "Vitamins are part of the whole package."

This whole package, she says, includes proper sleep, stress management, physical activity, avoiding smoking and not drinking too much alcohol—all actions that help decrease the risk of disease and improve overall health.

Watch InHealth on the Web!

To hear more about vitamin supplements, their benefits and risks and how to choose the appropriate supplement for you, tune into InHealth, a Washington Hospital Channel, on Comcast Channel 78. You can also watch the full schedule of InHealth television programs on the Washington Hospital website. Visit www.whhs.com/inhealth and click on the show titles to view the programs in real time.