Category Archives: Vitamins

Why I Take Vitamins


Vitamins are 100 years old!  Well, kinda.

Vitamins are as old as life itself.  But it was only 100 years ago a Polish biochemist named Casimir Funk dubbed these essential nutrients “Vitamins”.  Personally, I would’ve gone with Funkamins.  Or Funky Cold Medinas. But I’m not a Polish biochemist with a cool last name.

No one disputes the importance of eating a diet full of vitamin-rich foods, but there is still plenty of skepticism over whether taking a vitamin supplement is a good idea.

Not for me.  I’m a daily multivitamin advocate.  Here’s my logic:

Oxidative stress is proven.  There’s little debate free radicals in our bodies cause damage to cells.  And…
The modern world creates more free radicals than ever before.  Pollution, chemical exposure, and increased daily stress has caused our bodies to be assaulted by more free radicals than our natural defenses can handle.  And…
Vitamins are antioxidants, which neutralize free radicals.  In addition to numerous other benefits, vitamins play a role in protecting our cells from oxidative stress.  But….
No matter how healthy our diet, we don’t get enough vitamins.  At least not enough to keep up with the increased free radical onslaught from modern living.  So…
We need a boost to compensate.  Vitamin supplements bridge this gap.

While it hasn’t been conclusively proven vitamin protection from oxidative stress leads to better health, following the above logic leads me to conclude taking a vitamin supplement likely provides a protective benefit.

Therefore, the only reason not to take a multivitamin would be if it did harm.  Generally speaking, there is little risk in taking a reputable multivitamin.  Although that’s not always the advice mainstream medicine will advertise.  (I’ve commented on this before.)

Some of the negativity certainly comes from outlandish claims made by the few unscrupulous purveyors.  But there are plenty of reputable manufacturers to choose from.  Here’s the vitamins I use and promote.  And why.

I’d love to hear why you believe, or don’t believe, in vitamin supplements.  Naysayers welcome.

The Poison on Your Face

If you’re a female, this morning you likely applied makeup.  Probably do it every morning.  Eye shadow, concealer, base, and lots of other stuff that at once mystifies and entices me.

Unfortunately, there’s stuff in makeup that is not terribly enticing.  Namely, chemical poisons.

Indeed, it’s possible the stuff you smear on your face contains formaldehyde.  Yes, the same formaldehyde that preserved your biology class frog for dissection.

Not exactly the what you’d put on your money-maker “because your worth it.”

And it’s not just makeup.  Personal care products like lotions, soaps, deodorants, and moisturizers also contain chemical poisons.  Sorry guys, it’s not just a woman’s problem.

How Harmful?

Last week I introduced the concept of hormesis.  The idea that little doses of bad stuff can actually be good for us.  Or, at least, not that harmful.  So are the chemicals in the makeup making us sick?

The Environmental Working Group thinks so.  And although some will disagree, the real answer is no one knows for sure.  It’s difficult to prove exposure to a chemical over time causes disease.  There are just too many other variables.

Still, to me it seems logical that chemical exposure over any length of time is not a good thing.  It’s one reason I stopped wearing eye-liner.

The Best Protection

Avoidance.  Several companies offer chemical free makeup and skin care products.  Checking those out would be option one.  If you’re committed to your brand (as most of us are), push them to cut out the harmful stuff.

And take a multivitamin.  Vitamin’s antioxidant activity is our body’s natural defense against harmful chemicals.  While a healthy diet will fill your body with vitamins, a multivitamin can boost protection from sinister things like lip gloss.

Your Doc Uses Supplements, You Should Too

Although supplement use is often vilified in the media, a new survey indicates your physician likely is convinced of their utility. It seems 60-75% of physicians take supplements themselves.  That’s about the same rate as the general population.   Doctors…just like US!

They’re typically taking multivitamins and fish oil.  And most would recommend their patients mimic their supplement use.  If it’s good enough for your physician…

Most physicians don’t receive formal training about supplements.  No worries.  Being a physician requires a lifelong commitment to learning.  Understanding the usefulness and yes, the dangers, of supplements is a skill most MDs develop through their careers and personal experience.

So talk to your doc about supplementation.  Ask if they personally take anything and why.  Ask what you should avoid.  And always be sure to clear with your doc any new supplement you wish to start.

Turns out Doctors are just like regular people.  Curious….

A Headline You Didn’t See

In the past couple of weeks do you recall seeing this headline?

“Painkiller Overdose Deaths Triple in Decade”

Maybe?  Not really?  What about this one?

“Vitamins May Lead to Premature Deaths”

Ah yes, you remember hearing something about that.

A few weeks ago I discussed a new study’s conclusion that vitamins lead to premature death.  It was widely covered.  This week, I only saw one report pertaining to the first headline.  That strikes me as odd.

Why the difference?  Is there a media bias against vitamins?  I ran a google search to see if the difference was real or perceived.

I searched painkiller overdose and vitamins and early death over the past month.  There were nearly twice as many results for the vitamins (700,000) as the painkillers (375,000).  I understand a simple google search isn’t scientific.  But that’s a huge difference.  What gives?

Honestly, I don’t know.  I’m a big proponent of vitamins, so naturally I suspect some sort of bias.  Where this bias comes from I don’t know.  Perhaps because vitamins are less regulated than prescription medicines they seem less safe.  It’s clear, however, regulation doesn’t always mean safer.

Since 50% of Americans take vitamins, a “Vitamins can kill!” headline grabs more eyeballs.  In today’s media, it’s all about eyeballs.  I’d certainly say that plays a major role.

Is there anything else?  An agenda more sinister lurking beneath?  That answer isn’t clear.  But, to me at least, this type of bias can’t continue to be denied.

Am I nuts?  Thoughts?  

5 Precautions to Choose a Safe Supplement

On Monday I made the assertion supplements aren’t as unsafe as perceived.  However, there are definitely precautions to take when picking a supplement.  Here’s my top 5.

#1 Beware outlandish claims. Watch for things like: “Lose weight without changing your diet!”  “Get shredded!”  “Improve your IQ!”  “Grow a bigger….”  You get the idea.  If the claim seems too good to be true, well, you know the rest.

#2 Multivitamins are safe.  I always see the recommendation to avoid mega-doses (over 500% of RDA) but few drugstore brands contain this much. (Link for maximum vitamin & mineral doses).

In addition, for certain vitamins (notably vitamin D) the current literature recommends doses higher than the RDA.  But, when buying a multivitamin you do need to check one ingredient….

#3 Beware Iron.  Most overdoses associated with supplements are due to iron.  Be sure to keep an iron supplement away from children.  The amber pill could be mistaken for candy.

If your multivitamin contains iron take it 2 hours apart from prescription medicines.  If they intermingle in the stomach iron can bind drugs and not let them into the bloodstream.

#4 NSF Verified? NSF is an independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to consumer safety.  Check out they’re website to for verification that what you buy is what you get.  Want to take it a step further?  Join for quality reviews on over 900 products or order the Nutrisearch Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements.

#5 Herbs Interact.   Besides the iron issue, multivitamins have minimal effects on prescription drugs.  The opposite is true for herbals.  Although not all herbals can affect other drugs, some can wreak havoc.  Check with your pharmacist to be sure no potential interactions exist. (A quick interactions reference guide).

Here’s the FDA guide to safe supplement use.

Did I miss one?  What rules of thumb do you follow?

Supplements and a Fear of Flying

Are you afraid to fly?  I’m not.  I admit, though, I do get a little twinge of nerves at takeoff and landing even though I know it’s safer to fly than to drive. Our misplaced fear of flying is a phenomenon with numerous causes.  I’m reminded of this phenomenon when I read advice on supplements and vitamins.

Every time I read an article about supplements or vitamins (a recent example) the main tone is a warning that supplements are dangerous.  Typically, articles cite the lack of tight regulation as cause for alarm and advise taking supplements at your own risk.

Such strong warnings about prescription drugs are not broadcasted as regularly.  Perhaps that’s because they’re given under “the supervision of a healthcare professional”.  Certainly that should make them safer.  But does it?

From the FDA website, in 2010 there were over 82,000 deaths and 471,000 adverse events associated with prescription medications.  While only 1,000 adverse events (not just deaths) attributed to dietary supplements were reported. (This number is certainly low.  It’s most likely at least 10,000.*)

As a pharmacist, this post is not intended to be an indictment of prescription drugs.  Just as saying car travel is less safe than air travel isn’t an indictment of automobiles.  Prescription drugs are necessary.  And, taken correctly, fairly safe.

But why are prescription drugs generally considered safe, while supplements are presented with strong warnings? Especially when the actual numbers are so different.  I’m not sure.  I have some ideas, but that’s for another time.

The message I’m driving towards is while there are some precautions when taking supplements, on the whole they’re just as safe, if not safer than, prescription drugs.

On Friday I’ll outline which precautions to take when choosing a supplement.  After all, it pays to know where your emergency exits are on a plane.  Just in case. (Two over the wing, one at the front of the plane, and one in the rear)

*The system for reporting adverse reactions from supplements is not nearly as robust as prescription drugs.  One study concluded less than 1% of adverse events from supplements are accurately reported.

5 Supplements to Take Every Day

Ok, I get it.  There are lots of supplements out there these days.  You’re confused.  What to take?  How much? What’s good?  What’s bad?  Let’s start simple.  Here’s my list of the top 5 supplements to add to your daily regimen.

(In order of importance.  From most to least)

#1 Multi-Vitamin.  No matter how good the diet, it’s likely you’re not getting all the vitamins you need for optimal health.  Adding a daily multi-vitamin is the first place to start to cover those holes.

Which is best?  Well, I have a strong preference.   For drugstore brands, choose what fits your budget.  They’re all very similar.

#2 Vitamin D.   From heart health to cancer protection to diabetes and bone structure, the evidence for taking Vitamin D continues to mount.  A drug store multi-vitamin is likely low in Vitamin D.  Add a 2,000 IU daily Vitamin D supplement.

#3 Fish oil.  Like Vitamin D, the evidence supporting fish oil’s benefits grows larger by the day.  Omega-3 fats found in fish oils have been linked to benefiting brain and heart health, asthma, cancer, depression, and skin and bowel conditions.

Need more convincing?  On a recommendation from my vet, my pooch now takes fish oil.  If it’s good enough for Mr. Poopers, it’s good enough for me….

My pooch, Lex. aka Mr. Poopers

#4 Vitamin E  It’s our strongest antioxidant.  And, much like Vitamin D, a drugstore multi likely has too little of it.  Add a 400 IU Vitamin E boost to your daily routine.

#5 Calcium.  A necessity for growing kids and post menopausal women.  A good idea for everyone else.  It helps strentghen bones and is necessary for proper nerve and heart function.  Aim for around 1000mg a day (before taking an additional supplement first check how much your multi-vitamin delivers ).