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Do Not Toss the Vitamin Supplement Just Yet

Posted by Joan Salge Blake  December 18, 2013 02:04 PM

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An editorial from a group of physicians and researchers in the latest publication of the Annals of Internal Medicine emphatically states that Americans should stop wasting their hard earned money on vitamin and mineral supplements.   Their decision was based on a review of a number of studies, some of which were published simultaneously in the journal, which failed to show any evidence of a beneficial, protective effect among well-nourished, supplement users in fighting heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline, or dying prematurely, no matter what the cause. 

Granted, nothing can beat a well-balanced diet for not only providing all of your daily nutrient needs.  Food provides other compounds such as phytochemicals and fiber, which likely work in concert with these nutrients to keep you healthy.   In fact, there isn’t any additional benefit from taking a supplement if you are meeting your needs from the food you eat.  In fact, when it comes to some vitamins and minerals, some may be good but more is not always better.   For example, consuming too much beta-carotene in a supplement may increase the risk of lung cancer in some folks and excess vitamin E supplements may increase the risk of dying prematurely.

However, according to a position paper from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, there are some folks who, after a consultation with their health care provider and registered dietitian, may benefit from a supplement of the following nutrients:

Vitamin B12: This vitamin is needed for healthy nerves and red blood cells.    Some individuals, age 50 years and older, may not be able to properly absorb vitamin B12 contained in food. The dilemma appears to be due to a natural decline in the acidic juices in your stomach as you age.   The acids help break the bonds that bind the B12 to the proteins in foods so that it can be properly absorbed.  The synthetic form of vitamin B12 that is found in fortified foods and supplements isn’t bound to protein so it doesn’t depend on your stomach acids to be absorbed.

Folic Acid:  This vitamin plays an extremely important role during pregnancy, particularly in the first few weeks after conception, in helping to reduce the risk of a certain type of birth defect in the baby.  Because 50 percent of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, women who are at risk of becoming pregnant are recommended to consume 400 micrograms of synthetic folic acid daily from fortified foods or supplements, along with a well-balanced diet.  While folic acid is added to all enriched grains and cereal products, if women are limiting or eliminating these foods from their diet, they may fall short of their daily needs without a supplement. 

Calcium:  While meeting your daily calcium needs are important to keeping your bones strong, many Americans’ diets fall short of this important mineral.

Vitamin D:   An adequate amount of vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium in your body and to help reduce the risk of bone fractures, yet many Americans are not consuming enough of this nutrient.   Vitamin D can also be made in your body if your skin is exposed to adequate amounts of sunlight.   Unfortunately, in the dead of winter, bundled up with layers of warm clothing and little skin exposure, it  is likely that many people will not be producing enough vitamin D.

Iron:  Pregnant women will need to take a supplement as advised by their health care provider to meet their higher need of this mineral during pregnancy

Always speak with your health care provider before taking a supplement and look to a registered dietitian for nutritional advice regarding the adequacy of your diet in meeting your needs.  You can find a dietitian here.

Be well, Joan

If you have topic you would like me to cover on my blog, please email me at:

                                        Follow Joan on Twitter at:  joansalgeblake

Originally published on the blog Nutrition and You!.
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, is a clinical associate professor and registered dietitian at Boston University in the Nutrition Program. Joan is the author of Nutrition &You, 2nd Edition, More »

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