Thursday, February 19, 2009

Vitamins: The Secret to a... Shorter Life?

As I went through the grocery store the other day, every product seemed to be fortified with one vitamin or another. Some touted "extra anti-oxidants," others had "B vitamins for energy" and some had "calcium for strong bones." Vitamins are indeed important substances, many of them essential for human life, but is this fortification necessary? Is it possible that all these vitamins could actually be dangerous?

To shed some light on these issues, I did a quick search online and came across a NY Times article from Tuesday (see bottom of post for link.) The Times cited a few recent studies in which increased intake of multivitamins in women had no appreciable health benefits. Another study reviewed the results of several studies on antioxidants and found that in the population taking the extra antioxidants, deaths were actually higher than in the control group. Even more alarming was a study completed at UNC in which mice given a vitamin depleted diet actually had smaller tumors than control mice.

How could this all be? Does this mean that we should all try to avoid vitamins? While these studies are definitely thought provoking, it is important to realize that avoiding vitamins is a bad idea. Without vitamin c, we can develop scurvy, without folic acid in the womb, babies develop a serious birth defect known as spina bifida, just to name a few serious conditions associated with inadequate vitamin intake. I feel the most important thing to take away from these studies is realizing that simply taking more vitamins will not solve our health problems. Vitamins are important and should be taken in with a balanced diet. Many foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, etc are rich in essential vitamins and will more than supplement our needs. Therefore, like many of the previous posts have said, healthy living can be accomplished by eating a diet low in processed food, high in vegetables and lean protein sources. Easier said than done.

NY Times article:

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