Is it worth taking vitamin and mineral supplements ??

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Vitamins and minerals are substances that are found in foods we eat.  They are nutrients we must get from food because your body can't make them from scratch.  These essential vitamins must therefore be obtained from the food we consume on a daily basis. 

Vitamins and minerals, known together as micronutrients, are substances our bodies need in small amounts for normal growth and healthy functioning. Humans can not live without vitamins and minerals, they boost our immune system, support normal growth and development, help cells and organs do their jobs, vitamins regulate the metabolism, help convert fat and carbohydrates into energy, and assist in forming bone and tissue. 

Vitamins fall into two categories: fat soluble and water soluble.  Vitamins A, D, E, and K, the four fat-soluble vitamins, tend to accumulate in the body.  Vitamins A, D and K are stored in the liver and vitamin E is distributed throughout the body's fatty tissues.

While there is much speculation on the effects of taking supplements, there is clear evidence on what the effects are of not having enough vitamins and minerals. Deficiency symptoms can include any of the individual symptoms or a combination; night blindness; increased susceptibility to infections; rough, dry, scaly skin; loss of smell and appetite; frequent fatigue; defective teeth & gums; retarded growth; paralysis & nervous irritability; insomnia; loss of weight; vague aches & pains; mental depression; constipation; gastrointestinal problems; may result in itching and burning eyes; cracks and sores in the mouth & lips; bloodshot eyes; purplish tongue; dermatitis; digestive disturbances; trembling; sluggishness; oily skin; skin eruptions and acne; loss of muscular control; anemia; arm & leg cramps; loss of hair; slow learning; water retention; chronic fatigue; bone loss; dizziness; enlargement of the liver; eye disorders; hallucinations; headaches; labored breathing; memory loss, moodiness; ringing in the ears; binge eating; skin disorders; muscular weakness; indigestion; bad breath; muscle cramps; drowsiness; muscle pain; grayish skin color; pre-mature gray hair; high blood cholesterol; eczema; hair loss; heart problems; high blood pressure; swollen or painful joints; slow-healing wounds & fractures; bruising; nose bleeds; rickets; loss of reproductive powers; lack of sexual vitality.

There are many varied views from medical and health professionals about taking vitamin and mineral supplements. Some health experts claim to know it's all a bit of a con, but they keep fairly quiet about it mainly because the prevailing belief is they don't do any harm, as long as the dosage is moderate, and if people want to buy the illusion of wellness in a capsule, well it's their money.

On the other hand there are some medical professionals who are looking at the effects of taking vitamin and mineral as a way of treating patients and some diseases. The results of these studies have been inconclusive in proving anything and still leave most people confused.

Even for serious conditions like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and others, many people have found success in using herbs and vitamin supplements, as well as whatever medications they are prescribed.  Some believe they offer the promise of preventing or even curing some of the world's biggest killers, such as heart disease and cancer.  It is one of a group of vitamins called anti-oxidants that some believe can prevent illnesses such as cancer, Alzheimer's and heart disease.

One recent scientific analysis raised questions about whether high doses of vitamin E supplements might increase the risk of dying.  A different promising observational study of the Nurses' Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study suggested 20% to 40% reductions in coronary heart disease risk among individuals who took vitamin E supplements (a dose of 400 IU or more) for least two years.  In the Women's Health Study, which followed 40,000 women for 10 years, vitamin E supplements of 600 IU every other day did not significantly reduce the risk of so-called non fatal heart attack, non-fatal stroke, or cardiovascular death. When these major cardiac events were analyzed separately, however, vitamin E supplementation was linked to a 24 percent lower risk of cardiovascular death.  MAX trials, meanwhile, found that seven years of low-dose vitamin E supplementation (as part of a daily antioxidant pill) reduced the risk of cancer and the risk of dying from any cause in men, but did not show these beneficial effects in women; the supplements did not offer any protection against heart disease in men or women.

Research studies suggest that coenzyme Q-10 has increased the survival of patients with cancers of the pancreas, lung, colon, rectum, and prostate.  Consuming a combination of several vitamins above the minimum daily requirement may prevent heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and other chromic diseases.  Antioxidants were promoted as wonder agents that could prevent heart disease, cancer, cataracts, memory loss, and a host of other conditions.  Ongoing trials of other antioxidants, such as lutein and zeaxanthin for macular degeneration and lycopene for prostate cancer, are underway.  The following studies using supplements had some very negative findings: a study using beta-carotene had to be stopped because mortality was higher in the people taking the supplements.  A study of 18,000 smokers and former smokers found that those who took beta-carotene supplements had an almost 30 per cent increased chance of developing lung cancer compared to those who took the placebo.  This damage has been implicated in several major diseases including cancer and heart disease, yet the implication that vitamin supplements might protect people from these illnesses is controversial.

There are hundreds of supplements on the market and of course their manufacturers want you to purchase them.  Most countries place dietary supplements in a special category under the general umbrella of "foods," not drugs.  Unlike drug products, that must implicitly be proven safe and effective for their intended use before marketing, there are often no provisions to "approve" dietary supplements for safety or effectiveness before they reach the consumer.  Also unlike drug products, manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements are not generally required to report any claims of injuries or illnesses that may be related to the use of their products. 

Eating right is especially important because the body needs a variety of vitamins and minerals to grow, develop, and stay healthy.  Whole or unprocessed foods — like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, fish, and poultry — are the best choices for providing the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy and grow properly. For some people, supplements may help prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies when our modern diet does not provide all necessary nutrients.

So to the original question – it is worth taking them. I have decided to supplement my diet with a high quality liquid mineral and vitamin supplement, even though there is no definite evidence that it will make any positive difference to my health. I have found they make a difference – my skin is cleared, I have more energy and I just generally feel better. Could it be psychological ?? – I don’t know, possibly. But if it is, what is wrong with that – I am still happy.

While there is no hard evidence to say one way or another, the choice is with the consumer to decide on what personal benefits they will gain from taking the supplements.

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