Your Guide to Vitamins, Minerals, and Herbs
Author : RD.com - Subject : Health
A Basic Formula for Optimal Health
One of the principal benefits that vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients provide is to safeguard health on a long-term basis -- by helping to protect the human body against chronic, debilitating diseases that pose the most serious threat to longevity. But what is the best way to obtain this key preventive benefit? The advisory board for this book, headed by Dr. David Edelberg, suggests that everyone will profit by taking a daily high-potency supplement that contains approximately the amounts of the nutrients listed in the chart below.
This basic supplement formula contains vitamins and minerals in higher potencies than those found in typical "one-a-day" type formulas, which generally supply no more than the Recommended Dietary Allowance, or RDA, for each nutrient. (Levels that meet the highest RDA values are indicated on supplement labels by "100%" under the heading "% Daily Value" or "% U.S. RDA." Those with an asterisk * have no RDA.) Think of RDA levels as the nutritional counterpart of accommodations in a budget motel: They are sufficient to prevent vitamin-deficiency diseases (they provide basic shelter), but won't necessarily help against other types of disease (they don't offer cable TV).
Because a high-potency combination, by contrast, contains relatively high levels of nutrients -- in particular the antioxidant nutrients -- it's thought to combat tissue damage at the cellular level. Studies indicate that such levels are associated with preventing cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and other chronic illnesses that can hamper, and shorten, your life.
Choosing a brand
If you're accustomed to taking a "one-a-day" type of supplement, you may be surprised to learn that a high-potency formula (with vitamins and minerals at higher levels) may require taking more than one pill a day. In fact, with some brands, you'll need to consume anywhere from two to six tablets or capsules daily. Be sure to read the ingredients and serving size on any label carefully to calculate how many tablets are necessary to obtain the nutrient levels that are right for you.
When you are evaluating different brands, don't worry if you can't find a supplement that exactly matches the amounts shown in the chart, which are indicated in ranges. Unlike drug dosages, where exactness can be crucial, vitamin and mineral intakes need not be precise, because nutrients work far more gradually than drugs do. Also, these supplemental nutrients are interacting with, and building upon, the nutrients you obtain from food. Simply try to choose a supplement with dosages close to those that the chart recommends.
One other point: Some high-potency vitamin and mineral formulas have herbs and other nutrients added as general preventive "tonics." If you choose this type of supplement, check the entries on those ingredients under Supplements to be sure that the levels don't exceed recommended ranges.
How much to take
Use the chart below with these guidelines in mind:
If your diet is nutritionally excellent, take the amounts recommended in column A. These levels are sufficient if you regularly eat foods low in fat, get five to six generous servings of fruit and vegetables every day, and have meat, chicken, or fish several times a week in small portions.
If your diet is basically sound, take the amounts recommended in column B. They are intended for someone who usually eats three meals a day, with at least one or two servings of fruits and vegetables, and who doesn't gorge on fatty foods -- but who skips a lunch or breakfast in an average week and may grab one or two "fast food" meals.
If your diet is poor, take the amounts recommended in column C. These levels are intended for someone who routinely skips meals, who skimps on fruits, vegetables, and grains (the foods that are considered the richest sources of vitamins and minerals), and who normally eats a slice of pizza or a deli sandwich and a diet cola for lunch.
Another reason to increase your supplement intake may be your personal health history. For example, taking folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 may help you prevent heart disease (see Heart Disease Prevention under Ailments).
Similarly, if you have a family history of high blood pressure, cancer, or another chronic ailment, additional supplements are recommended for preventive purposes (see the ailment entries for specifics). And while you may not be suffering from -- or at risk for -- a specific disorder, you may still have nutrient needs that can benefit from increased supplementation. If you fit into one of the categories listed on this and the opposite page, you should consider taking the suggested nutrient(s). The basic daily multivitamin and mineral formula you choose may supply part or even all of this additional supplementation. But in most cases, you will probably have to purchase individual supplements to take in addition to your basic daily formula.
If you are a woman
Beginning in their mid-20s, humans gradually lose bone mass -- and in women, this process accelerates after menopause. If bone loss advances sufficiently, osteoporosis develops. To slow the loss of bone, adult women of all ages should include extra calcium in their daily supplement program.
Total daily calcium intake, from both diet and supplements, should total at least 1,200 mg and can safely be as high as 2,500 mg. (For additional recommendations on how to prevent osteoporosis, see Osteoporosis under Ailments.)
If you are a man over age 50
One condition common in older men is BPH, or benign prostatic hyperplasia, an enlargement of the prostate (a walnut-size gland just below the bladder that produces seminal fluid). If this occurs, it can interfere with urination. Consider adding saw palmetto -- 160 mg twice a day -- for prostate health. This herb helps relieve inflammation and affects prostate-related hormone levels (see Saw Palmetto, under Supplements).
If you are a vegetarian
Strict vegetarians -- those who avoid all animal foods, including dairy and egg products -- can eat a balanced diet if they consume a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains. But one nutrient not supplied by these foods is vitamin B12, found in eggs, meats, poultry, fish, and dairy products. Over time, therefore, strict vegetarians can develop B12-deficiency anemia (see Vitamin B12 under Supplements). Be sure your basic daily formula supplement includes 100 mcg of vitamin B12.
If you exercise frequently
Regular exercise or athletic activity, especially if it is prolonged or intense, breaks down muscle fiber. This wear and tear, which can be accompanied by a loss of flexibility, gets worse as a person ages.
Consider adding creatine monohydrate -- 1 teaspoon (5 grams) a day -- to help in muscle repair. Additional magnesium -- 200 mg daily -- is also helpful, because this mineral plays a key role in muscle contractions.
Other supplements that contribute to muscle endurance and energy are the amino acid-like substance carnitine (500 mg twice a day) and the nutritional supplement coenzyme Q10 (50 mg daily).
If you're over age 50 and feeling a slow decline in energy levels despite exercising regularly, you can also add the herb Siberian ginseng (100 mg a day) or talk to your doctor about the hormone DHEA (25 mg daily). You'll need to have your blood DHEA levels measured before taking the supplement.
If you are on a weight-loss diet
Dieting to lose weight can trigger hunger pangs and cause blood sugar levels to vacillate. Add chromium (200 mcg twice a day) to your basic formula; it can assist the body in using fat and prevent swings in blood sugar. The supplement 5-HTP (100 mg three times a day) can help stem urges to overeat (see Overweight, under Ailments).
If you smoke
Nutritional supplements will not appreciably reduce your risk of developing heart disease, lung disease, or cancer. But you may be able to combat some of the effects of smoking with extra antioxidants. Try taking grape seed extract (100 mg twice a day) or green tea extract (250 mg twice a day). See Smoking, under Ailments, for advice on how to quit smoking.
If you consume alcohol
Drinking alcohol in moderation -- no more than two drinks a day for men, one for women -- can actually be good for you, because it helps lower the risk of heart disease. But drinking more heavily -- three or more drinks a day for men, two or more for women -- can deplete certain nutrients. Excess alcohol is also associated with an increased risk of liver disease, as well as other health problems.
Help protect your liver with milk thistle (150 mg twice a day). Extra vitamin C (1,000 mg a day) and extra B vitamins (a single B-50 complex capsule, plus an extra 100 mg of thiamin) can also be beneficial.
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