May 30th, 2008
02:24 PM ET

Vitamins as we age

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

My friend takes a lot of vitamins.  In fact, in one day, she probably washes down the entire alphabet.  I have often wondered, as I watch her take glass after glass of water to swallow them all, why?  Is it really necessary to take that many supplements?

Nutritionists say no.   According to Katherine Tallmadge of the American Dietetic Association a multi-vitamin once a day is fine.  The best way of getting your vitamins, she says, is to eat foods that are loaded with nutrients. "Many studies are showing that vitamin supplements do not get the same results as vitamins from food," she says.   So that means eating goodies rich in calcium, Vitamin A,B, B12, C and E.   And as we age, it's even more important to get these supplements into our diets in order to stay healthy.

At any age, but especially as we get into our 30s, calcium is important.  Most people think calcium plays a bigger role in our golden years, but doctors say the more calcium you put in your body as a young adult, the stronger your bones will be as you get older. That's because as we reach 30 we begin to lose bone and muscle mass.   So fill up the breakfast table with low-fat milks and yogurts. And look for foods rich in magnesium and vitamin K for muscles. And don't forget vitamin D.  It helps your body absorb calcium into the bones.  You can get it from sunshine, but getting enough of it that way can be a challenge with a busy schedule.   In fact Tallmadge says, "vitamin D is hard enough to get in food...vitamin d is the only nutrient I recommend that you get from a supplement."

Also in your 40s and 50s start thinking about your heart.  Tallmadge notes, "a big factor is preventing heart diseases.  I would say the B vitamins are very important – folic acid, vitamin B 12 – those B vitamins are very important for keeping homocysteine levels down. which is an emerging risk factor for heart disease."

So turn to whole grains, broccoli and low-fat animal products, like lean meat and chicken.  All of these can help keep the circulation system healthy.

And of course, eat lots of veggies and fruits.  And don't forget the omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish, walnuts and flax seed.  They're also important for prevention of heart disease because they can reduce inflammation, blood clots and keep blood pressure down.  They can also be important for the brain.  Studies have shown people with high Omega three diets, have less depression, and fewer cases of dementia and Alzheimer's.  

As for all the vitamin supplements, talk to your doctor.  They aren't necessarily bad for you, but taking too much of one vitamin or combination of vitamins could cause problems.  Nutritionists say, balance it out.  It could help you feel healthier and cut down on your vitamin bill.

Do you take vitamins... which ones and why?  We'd like to hear about it.

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.