by Reisha Zang

(reprinted from Lifestyle magazine, November 2006 issue)

Lifestyle magazine

“Are you tired, run-down, listless? Do you poop out at parties? Are you unpopular?” questioned Lucille Ball, the famous Vitameatavegamin girl. According to the commercial in this episode of I Love Lucy, “the answer to all your problems” came in a little bottle. This cure-all contained vitamins, meat, vegetables and minerals and claimed to be the perfect way to “spoon your way to health.”

It seems like we have always been looking for a shortcut to good health. Unfortunately, there is no magic potion in a bottle, but vitamins can play a role in helping you meet the nutritional requirements your body needs to stay healthy and support its functions.

“Proper nutrition is the key to good health,” said Dr. Tina Marcantel, a naturopathic physician practicing in Gilbert. But sometimes it is difficult to eat the proper variety of foods to get the nutrients your body needs. Vitamin supplements can complement your regular diet. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), some supplements may help ensure that you get adequate amounts of essential nutrients or help promote optimal heath and performance.

“People really want to help themselves, and more and more, they are interested in taking an active role in their own health care,” said Marcantel. She finds that her patients are going out and buying a variety of vitamin supplements (in some cases, getting too many). “It is the biggest problem I see in my practice,” she said. “People taking too many vitamins that are causing irritability, insomnia and other potentially more serious problems.”

So how do you know what vitamins to take? You should ask your health care provider to make a recommendation regarding vitamin supplements. With the abundance of conflicting information about dietary supplements, it is more important than ever to talk with a doctor to help you sort the reliable information from the questionable.

In addition, the NIH suggests looking for a “seal of approval” from an independent organization. These organizations test what is in the bottle. These “seals of approval” do not mean that the product is safe or effective, warns the NIH. They provide assurance that the product was properly manufactured, that it contains the ingredients listed on the label and that it does not contain harmful levels of contaminants. They also verify that the ingredients will release and dissolve so they are available for the body to absorb.

Absorption is crucial with taking a vitamin supplement. What is the point of a vitamin if your body is not able to use it? Marcantel suggests dropping your vitamin in a glass of water. What happens next is what happens in your body after you swallow it. Quality vitamins dissolve and release the ingredients rather quickly. If it breaks down over a few hours, that is OK, too. If it sits there, unchanged, it is not being absorbed.

As with most items, “you get what you pay for,” said Marcantel. It is really important to get a professional opinion before you go out and spend a lot of money on a variety of supplements. She says you don’t need the most potent vitamin out there; all you need is a normal amount that your body can absorb. It is also important to have the right vitamins for you personally and to make certain that they do not interact with any prescription medication you may be taking or health problems you may have.

Everyone’s requirements can be different. For example, a panel for the NIH recommends calcium and vitamin D for postmenopausal women to protect bone health. For a person with pernicious anemia, Marcantel recommends a B12 vitamin and folic acid. She feels it is important to review an individual’s lab results and personal history in order to balance the vitamins and minerals specifically for each person’s needs.

It is difficult to establish a standard recommendation for the types of vitamins everyone should take. The best way to get the vitamins and minerals your body needs is through a variety of whole foods, including fruits and vegetables. Vitamin supplements cannot replace a healthy diet, but they can help fill the gap for nutrients that are lacking in your everyday food consumption.

It would be wonderful to be able to join Lucy and simply get a big bottle of Vitameatavegamin, but one vitamin is not the answer for everyone. It is worth the effort to check with your health care provider to develop a vitamin regimen that is personalized for you.