Mon | Oct 15, 2018

Are you taking your vitamins?

Published:Tuesday | October 14, 2014 | 12:00 AM

"Of several remedies, the physician should choose the least sensational."

- Hippocrates

AS RECENTLY as the end of the last century, mainstream medicine was openly hostile to the idea of healthy people taking vitamin supplements. Now this anti-vitamin position has changed, as irrefutable evidence shows that vitamin supplements could reduce the risk of many common diseases. Sadly, it is still not uncommon for doctors to tell their patients that they do not need vitamin supplements if they are eating a 'balanced' diet.

In April 1998, the editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine was titled 'Eat Right and Take a Multi-Vitamin'. This article indicated that certain vitamin supplements could reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. This was the first time that a prestigious medical journal was recommending vitamin supplements.

An even stronger endorsement for the use of vitamin supplements came in the June 19, 2002 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Harvard University doctors reported that people who got enough vitamins might be able to prevent many common illnesses like cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis.

Today, over one-third of North Americans take supplements, but many are reluctant to tell their doctors for fear that they may disapprove. I suspect that the same situation exists right here in Jamaica, although I have observed that more of my Jamaican medical colleagues are now recommending vitamin and herbal supplements to their patients. I applaud them.

However, to confuse the issue, research suggests that as much as one-third of dietary supplements (vitamins, minerals and herbals), mostly imported from the United States, have one or all of the following problems:

The products do not contain what the label says it should.

The products contain other undisclosed substances in addition to what is on the label, which may create a health hazard.

The active ingredients in a supplement may not be readily absorbed by the system, and may thus be ineffective.

Fortunately, the Jamaican Ministry of Health is vigilant in protecting the interests of the public in this matter. I hope, however, that, in doing so, the right of the individual to choose supplements for himself or herself will not be infringed upon. After all, the possible problems that may arise from taking supplements are minute when compared with the side effects of prescription medication. Just imagine, over 150,000 Americans die each year from the side effects of drugs prescribed by their doctors! We have not counted the bodies in Jamaica. I know of no one who died from vitamins.

The following guidelines may help you in your choice and use of nutritional supplements:

Choose a reputable brand

The cheapest brand is not necessarily the best. Choose products from a company that has an established reputation for high quality and effective products. Speak with individuals who have used that brand and have them share their experience with you. Well-trained network marketers of nutritional supplements are particularly helpful in this regard as they are usually heavy consumers of the products they sell. Some, but not all, health food store personnel may also be helpful. I, myself, very carefully select the brand of supplements I recommend to my clients.

Read the labels

The US Food and Drug Administration monitors and regulates dietary supplements using two main laws:

The Megadosage law, which says that no food supplement should have an amount of any one ingredient that could create harm when taken at the recommended dosage.

The Labeling law, which says that any potential side effect that a dietary supplement may have and any necessary warnings about the use of such a product should appear on the product's label. Unfortunately, unscrupulous manufacturers often get away with outright fraud and that is why my first recommendation is so important.

Pay little attention to RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) values on the labels. The RDA is the minimum amount of a vitamin necessary to prevent you from being seriously deficient. I believe that those levels are far too low for optimal health benefits. In fact, many experts believe that the RDA is obsolete and irrelevant to modern nutritional practice.

Educate yourself

The more informed you become about nutrition, the more responsibility you can take for maintaining excellent health. There are many books, tapes, seminars and Internet sites that provide good information. I recommend my own books, An Ounce of Prevention series as a good information source. Remember, 'your health is in your hands'.

Talk with your doctor: It is important that your doctor knows that you are taking supplements. If your doctor is unwilling to discuss the matter with you, then I would suggest that you seek a second opinion or even change your health care provider. Remember, doctors are often not well educated about nutritional supplements.

You may email Dr Vendryes at or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER106FM on Fridays at 8:15 p.m. Visit his website or information on his new book 'An Ounce of Prevention - Particularly for Men'.