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7 Things to Keep in Mind When Buying Vitamin Supplements

Posted Sep 23 2012 10:12am

The vitamin industry reaps tens of billions of dollars annually, and no wonder: Every time we log on to the Internet or turn on a television, there seems to be another story warning of the dangers of some type of vitamin or nutrient deficiency. Taking nutrients in pill or capsule form is convenient in so many ways, but it is not a decision that should be made uninformed. Following is a list of things to think about before you spend dollar one on supplements.

1. Ask your doctor. Which vitamins do you need? Which vitamins may be bad for you? Do you even need to spend any money on vitamins? The first person you should ask is your doctor. She knows your health history and is best qualified to determine which vitamins–if any–are right for you. Should you opt to self-diagnose, keep in mind that…

2. Research is ongoing. Until 2008, the accepted wisdom was that men should take vitamin E to stave off prostate cancer. That was the year that a National Cancer Institute study showed that years of daily doses could actually increase cancer. Certain nutrients may have benefits, but only in certain amounts. If you take supplements, keep abreast of the latest research to help you decide whether or not you need to alter your regimen.

3. Vitamins and pharmaceuticals may interact. Ask anyone who has taken the sleep supplement L-Tryptophan and an SSRI anti-depressant medication at the same time. This goes back to number one: Bring a list of any supplements you plan on taking to your doctor. A pharmacist should be able to answer any questions about drug interactions, as well.

4. Women and men have different nutritional needs…sort of. Naturally, if one's planet of origin is Venus, the Venutian body will have different requirements than one spawned on the Red Planet. The differences, though, are not as great as the scholars have led us to believe. According to an LA Times article on multivitamins, men and women need the same amounts of major vitamins, with the odd mineral out being iron: "Women who are menstruating need relatively large amounts of iron to prevent anemia, but too much can encourage heart disease in men and postmenopausal women." Postmenopausal women should cut down to the same level as men.

5. Expensive doesn't necessarily mean better. A Consumer Reports study found that popular brands, including store brands, provide the nutrients listed on the labels. Discount brands did not fare so well, so stick to the big names. Buying vitamins is like purchasing home security; the tougher claims don't necessarily stand up to scrutiny.

6. Supplements have shelf lives. Every container of supplements should have an expiration date printed on it. If the date has passed or is unreadable, don't buy it–even if it is on sale at ten bottles for a dollar with a free loofa.

7. Food is the best source of vitamins. We know that research on vitamins is ongoing; the results of that research have indicated over the past few years that supplements may not decrease the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes. There is a way to get the right vitamins in the right amounts: Eat healthy foods that are rich in nutrients.

Depending on which experts you believe, vitamin supplements can either improve the quality of life or decrease the weight of your wallet with no real health benefits. Since most supplements are not regulated by the government to the same degree as drugs, the onus is on you–the consumer–to do the research and gather information to make the right decision. Whatever you decide, keep these seven tips in mind and have a healthy life.

Al Natanagara is a writer, journalist, and blogger whose career includes stints with ZDNet, CNet, CBS, LexisNexis, and law enforcement. He writes for a variety of companies including .

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