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Finding Value in Vitamin & Mineral Supplements

Eating a perfectly balanced diet guaranteed to deliver just the right amount of vitamins and minerals can be a challenge. If you’re unable to prepare fresh food at most meals or go food shopping often, or if you have certain health conditions that will benefit from getting more than average amounts of key nutrients, taking vitamin and mineral supplements may be a way to meet your needs.

It seems as though every day brings new research about supplements. Among the latest reports are studies on multivitamins, vitamins C and D and calcium, and how they can help you stay healthy today and as you age.

On Multivitamins
One of the country’s longest and largest studies is the Brigham and Women’s Hospital study of 15,000 male doctors over age 50. New results show that one group of men who took a Centrum Silver multivitamin for an average of 11 years had an 8 percent lower risk of getting cancer than the group that took placebos.

While the reduction in cancer cases was small, results suggest that, beyond addressing vitamin and mineral deficiencies, low doses of multiple vitamins and minerals might work together to prevent disease, according to study co-author Howard Sesso, an epidemiologist specializing in preventive medicine.

It’s not yet possible to say that these benefits apply equally to everyone—most of the doctors were white, didn’t smoke and ate about four servings of fruits and vegetables a day and not much red meat.

While just one group of people was studied, the researchers didn’t find any disadvantage to taking a daily supplement with just the recommended daily allowance for most vitamins and minerals. And at least one of the doctors from the placebo group said he was going to take a daily supplement considering the potential benefit.

On Calcium and Vitamin D
One long-term study that involved about 30,000 women, the Women's Health Initiative Calcium plus Vitamin D Supplementation Trial, found that, after 12 years of follow-up, these supplements were associated with a 13 percent decreased risk for vertebral fractures. Interestingly, the first seven years of the study aim to see if there was a significant reduction in hip fractures and whether the combination of 1,000 mg calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D daily had any effect on preventing colorectal cancer (there wasn’t a significant benefit for either). Many participants agreed to continue for another five years, with about 40 percent taking more than 1,200 mg of calcium per day. Researchers do point out that most of the women were white and in good overall health.

On Vitamin C
With osteoporosis posing such a threat to independence and overall health, recent research into preventing the bone disease has extended beyond the key supplements of calcium and vitamin D. Researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine have shown for the first time in an animal model that vitamin C actively protects against the disease, which affects large numbers of elderly women and men and causes bones to be become brittle and more easily fracture.

"This study has profound public health implications, and is well worth exploring for its therapeutic potential in people," said lead researcher Mone Zaidi, MD, Professor of Medicine (Endocrinology, Diabetes and Bone Disease, and of Structural and Chemical Biology, and Director of the Mount Sinai Bone Program. "The medical world has known for some time that low amounts of vitamin C can cause scurvy and brittle bones, and that higher vitamin C intake is associated with higher bone mass in humans. What this study shows is that large doses of vitamin C, when ingested orally by mice, actively stimulate bone formation to protect the skeleton. It does this by inducing osteoblasts, or premature bone cells, to differentiate into mature, mineralizing specialty cells. Further research may discover that dietary supplements may help prevent osteoporosis in humans."