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December 9th, 2008
12:04 PM ET

What supplement does Dr. Gupta take?

As a new feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.

Question asked by J. Mizer, San Diego, California

"As part of CNN's programming, Dr. Gupta named the one daily vitamin supplement he takes, however, I can't remember what it was.  Can you  please advise?"

Answer:

Hi J,

First off, thanks for tuning in to CNN!  Your question is one I get often — the dilemma of whether to take a daily supplement can be confusing. The truth of it is Americans spend billions of dollars a year on a products that have no scientific proof they work.

In fact, 20 percent of Americans take some kind of an herbal supplement, but in about 2/3 of those cases the supplement isn’t clinically proven to provide benefit.

To answer your initial question, the one supplement I take everyday is fish-oil/omega 3. I have a family history of heart disease and there is evidence fish-oil, can help reduce my risk.    But this doesn’t mean, fish-oil is the only supplement that has benefits. 

Studies show calcium and vitamin D supplements can reduce your risk for osteoporosis. And folic acid supplements are beneficial for expecting mothers as they help prevent birth defects.

Here are a couple best-selling herbal supplements  that studies have proved have no benefit. Gingko biloba does not help your improve your memory or to ward of Alzheimer’s disease.  Studies say echinacea does not help fight off a cold and there is no evidence that St. John’s Wart works to treat depression.

I know it is harder than it sounds but the best way to get nutrients is through a well balanced diet.  Loading up on lots of vegetables, fish and leafy greens will provide you with a wide range of essential vitamins to keep your immune system up and your brain working at full speed.

 If you do chose to go with any type of vitamin or supplement, be sure to tell your doctor about it. Some herbal supplements can also cause harmful drug interactions with pharmaceutical drugs you might also be taking.


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soundoff (880 Responses)
  1. Dr Zac

    According to an article appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association (2002; 287(23):3127-9), many of us may need to be taking vitamin supplements. The article acknowledges that while extreme deficiency syndromes (like pellagra and beriberi) are rare in Western society, sub optimal intake of certain nutrients is a risk factor for disease. The article states that deficiencies of folic, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 increase the risk for heart disease (that is why we need to be testing homocysteine on our patients. B6, Folate, B12 help in homocysteine's conversion so that heart disease risk goes down..just review your biochemistry book).

    These deficiencies also increase the risk for breast and colon cancers, as well as for neural tube defect (a common birth defect) in developing fetuses. Deficiencies of antioxidant, like vitamins A, C and E are also linked to a number of diseases. The article acknowledges that the diets of many Americans are not getting enough of many of these nutrients (because of faulty argicultural practices, pesticide/fungicide use, mineral-depleted soil, etc) and sees the wisdom of supplementation.

    How about talk about the need for CoQ10? It's a known fact by the literature that this essential nutrient is depleted by popular cholesterol-lowering medications.

    Also, doc, the medical literature is overwhelming with proof of the effectiveness of fish oils/EPA & DHA, vitamin D, B vitamins (hence homocysteine metabolism), and even probiotics! It doesn't take a genius to find this out by reading the medical literature. How much info on nutrition did we receive in medical school...not much.

    December 18, 2008 at 18:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Ann in Oklahoma

    What is CoQ10? I have been taking vitamin supplements, and only 4 weeks ago had to begin using a cholesterol-lowering medication. If this "essential" nutrient is depleted by the medication, I would like to keep it from depletion in my system.
    Also, is glucosamine, chrondrotin and MSM truly a benefit for degenerative disk disease? Thanks for this site and your advise and answer.

    December 22, 2008 at 19:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Dr Zac

    Ann, CoQ10 is a substance found in the mitochondria of our cells. It is involved with producing energy. It's highest concentration is in the heart and liver. What cholesterol-lowering medications do is block the production of cholesterol in the liver (there are different types of cholesterol-lowering drugs..I am referring to only one type). This process in turn, lowers our CoQ10 production..this can lead to fatigue, muscle pain, etc.
    I would recommend searching the medical literature (pubmed website) and the internet (only reliable sources though!) to find out more information. Also talk to your prescribing physician about this issue, he/she should be familiar with it.
    Glucosamine, chondrotin and MSM are substances to help the disks of the spine to retain water. This way they are more fluid and prevent disk degeneration. Its important to also consider exercise, being hydrated, and even a fish oil as Dr. Gupta has talked about. There are good studies supporting glucosamine, but they aren't as conclusive as Vitamin D, Fish oil, and others.

    December 23, 2008 at 17:18 | Report abuse | Reply
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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.