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Vitamins and vitamin supplements

Posted 10/21/2015

One of the greatest achievements of the twentieth century was the discovery of vitamins. For hundreds of years, people realized that eating certain foods seemed to prevent certain diseases (British sailors ate lemons and limes to prevent scurvy). It wasn’t until 1911 that thiamin, a B vitamin, was isolated in the laboratory. Now there are 13 known vitamins essential to human health.

Vitamins take part in many processes in the body. They aid in good vision, blood cell formation, bone growth, and functioning of the heart and nervous system. They also aid in the production of energy from food, although vitamins provide no energy themselves. A deficiency of certain vitamins can cause many different diseases including scurvy, beriberi, and rickets. Deficiency diseases caused by low vitamin intake are rare in the United States, largely due to the fact that a wide variety of food is available all year long throughout the nation. However, research shows that millions of children suffer from vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency.

A 2009 study found that 9 percent of children nationally were vitamin D deficient and 61 percent of children were vitamin D insufficient, leaving them at risk for poor bone and overall health. This may be due in part to drinking more sweetened beverages and less milk or milk substitutes, or from children spending more time indoors watching television or playing computer games and hand-held devices. Parents should ensure that children drink fat-free or low-fat, vitamin D fortified milk or milk substitutes, eat fatty fish (like tuna, salmon or mackerel), and eat other fortified foods (cereals, juice, yogurt). Check the package label to see if a food is vitamin D fortified. Children should also spend some time playing in the sun to allow the body to produce its own vitamin D.

Most people do not need a vitamin supplement if they follow the dietary guidelines, eating a variety of food from all five food groups every day. A vitamin pill a day will not make up for an unhealthy diet. Some individuals (the elderly, smokers, heavy drinkers, frequent aspirin takers, and those with impaired immune systems) may benefit from a daily multivitamin, however. Taking large doses of most vitamins is not wise. Certain vitamins (vitamins A and D) are toxic in large doses. Others cause various side effects like diarrhea or headaches. The best recommendation is to stick to the amounts listed in the Daily Reference Intakes (DRIs), and to eat a variety of foods that will provide the different vitamins we need every day.

Email or call Susan Lednicky, nutritionist, at 702-257-5548.

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