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Sure I eat well, but ...

By SUSAN ASCHOFF, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 24, 2002

  • When choosing a multivitamin, look for a label that lists 100 percent for vitamins A, B-1 (thiamin), B-2 (riboflavin), B-6, B-12, C, D, E, folic acid and niacin. If you're older than 50, add up to 25 micrograms (mcgs) of B-12.
  • If you eat lots of vegetables, particularly leafy, dark green ones, you don't need vitamin K. If you take a blood-thinning medication, such as Coumadin, do not take K without consulting a doctor.
  • One of the best sources of vitamin E is almonds.
  • Some observational studies have found that people who take vitamin and mineral supplements, particularly B-6, E and folic acid, have lower rates of heart disease. Scientists do not know if it's the vitamins or the typically more healthy lifestyle of those who take them that accounts for the difference.
  • Vitamins A, C and E, the antioxidant vitamins, are being studied for their ability to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Antioxidants protect against the effects of "free radicals," oxygen molecules that can damage brain cells. Studies have found benefit primarily in eating vitamin-rich foods, not taking vitamin pills.
  • Higher doses of vitamins C, E, beta-carotene and zinc have been found to retard by about 25 percent the advancement of age-related macular degeneration and vision loss in those with the condition.
  • Collard greens, which contain a substance called lutein, are one of the best foods for eyes.
  • Most people need about 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. Those older than 50 need about 1,200, or the equivalent of 17 cups of broccoli.
  • There has been no definitive study, but early results indicate that selenium may reduce risk of cancers. Most multivitamins do not contain selenium, so consult your physician about an additional source.
  • More is not necessarily better. Excess amounts of B-6 (the daily recommended amount is 2 mg) may cause nerve damage; too much calcium can cause kidney stones and impair absorption of iron, zinc and magnesium.
  • Excess beta-carotene in pill form may raise the risk of lung cancer in smokers, some experts believe. But beta carotene-rich foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes and cantaloupe may lower the risk.
  • If taking herbal supplements, be cautious about taking vitamin and mineral supplements to avoid overdosing.

-- Sources: American Heart Association, National Institutes of Health, Nutrition Action Health Letter.

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