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To Supplement or Not to Supplement?
Date:3/29/2010

also cited iron, which is often needed by premenopausal women, who lose it with their monthly periods. And, for women of childbearing age, folate supplements have been shown to help prevent birth defects.

Overuse of supplements, though -- and particularly megadoses -- worries health experts. Megadoses of vitamin E, for instance, are particularly hazardous, Boyar said.

As for the ideal food-supplement balance, Penny M. Kris-Etherton, a nutrition professor at Penn State University, said that "ideal" depends on the individual but, in general, think healthy whole foods first.

"Food does not just provide one nutrient but a lot of nutrients and collectively helps individuals meet their nutrient needs," Kris-Etherton said.

She acknowledged that some people have trouble getting enough nutrients, especially calcium and vitamin D, through food alone. But she cautioned people to avoid high doses of vitamin E supplements, which have not proven effective in helping to reduce heart disease, as some had thought.

Smokers who take high doses of beta carotene supplements also can have adverse effects, she said. And antioxidant cocktails can interfere with cholesterol-lowering drugs.

"Ideally, people would get their nutrients from their diet," agreed Dr. Michelle May, a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians and author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.

She said she tries to dispel the "more is better" mentality that many people have when it comes to popping supplements. Their thinking, May said, is often: "It's natural, so it's got to be safe." But in many cases, she said, the megadoses are not needed or are, in fact, unsafe.

More information

The U.S. Office of Dietary Supplements has more on understanding supplements.



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