Which vitamins should I take?

Individuals that take vitamin D supplements seem to have a lower risk of death from any cause over an average follow-up period of six-years. This was the finding of a meta-analysis of eighteen previous studies reported in the September 10, 2007 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine1. Research evidence suggests that vitamin D deficiency could increase one’s risk of death from cancer, heart disease and diabetes, a trio that makes up 60 percent to 70 percent of deaths in rich countries, the authors also noted. The researchers found that persons that took vitamin D had a 7 percent lower risk of death than those that did not take the vitamin.

The need to ensure adequate intake of this vitamin and to prevent its deficiency is therefore clear. The authors also observed that how vitamin D supplementation lowers the risk of death from all causes is uncertain although that it could inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells or enhance immunity, or blood vessels’ functioning. No doubt, researchers do not have all the answers to the enigma of this potentially valuable vitamin and research is ongoing on the links between the dose of vitamin D, baseline vitamin D status, and risk of deaths, and on the effect of moderate exposure to the sun, fortifying food with vitamin D, and the use of higher-dose supplements of the vitamin for examples. This is just an instance of the known benefits of vitamins.

We could view these benefits from a number of different perspectives, for example those for persons without consideration of any underlying illness, those for individuals on certain types of medications, or for individuals that have an underlying illness or medical condition, such as impaired cognitive functioning, or for treating/reversing vitamin deficiencies. Research evidence for these benefits are sometimes inconclusive, and at other times, controversial. However, as in the example given above, that many vitamins are beneficial is well established. Consider the case of antioxidants. Numerous studies have reported the benefits of antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin E, ß-carotene, and vitamin C for examples in preventing or treating coronary artery disease (CAD), and in reducing morbidity and mortality from this condition2, 3, 4. 

There is also research evidence that antioxidant vitamins may be significant in the core cause and prevention of high blood pressure, and indeed for a significant and inverse relation between serum levels of {alpha}-carotene and ß-carotene and risk of high blood pressure, as well as for a significant and positive relation between serum levels of vitamin A and E and risk of high blood pressure, regardless of age, gender, race, and other vital risk factors for the condition5. Research has also shown a significant inverse relation between serum vitamin C and diastolic blood pressure5.

Yet, data exists to indicate for example that low-dosage vitamin E supplementation (50 IU/d has no cardiovascular benefit and that vitamin E combined with beta carotene could in fact be detrimental6, 7. It is also debatable whether we should obtain our antioxidants from dietary sources or from supplements, and for how long we should use them, some advocating a low-fat diet with high intake of fruits and vegetable for individuals in general, others recommending vitamin E supplementation for example, for individuals at high risk for CAD or that are known to have CAD, initiated at dosages of 100 to 400 IU/d, and higher, respectively2.

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