The future of vitamins

Will vitamins continue to play a pivotal role in our lives? The answer to this question seems obvious, although the role that they will play on the other hand appears to continue to evolve. The awareness of the benefits of vitamins is improving and the use of over-the-counter (OTC) vitamin supplements, increasing. The more we know about these benefits, and indeed, the hazards that their under-and over-use pose, the likelier they will feature more prominently in our lives.

This underscores the need for continuing research on various aspects of vitamin and nutritional supplementation. New research studies are consolidating knowledge on vitamins, and providing new information on the benefits of vitamins. Many individuals are likely aware of the benefits of over-the-counter oral supplements for examples antioxidants on age related macular degeneration (AMD), which is quite common among seniors, and many with the condition are perhaps already using these supplements to improve their vision.

Recent research evidence indeed, confirms the beneficial effects of dietary modifications and vitamin supplementation in reducing the risk of AMD worsening1. Previous researches have indicated that a mix of vitamins C and E, beta carotene, zinc oxide and cupric oxide reduces the rate of visual loss in dry AMD1, as do other carotenoids for examples, lutein and zeaxanthin, intake of which latter two dietary manipulations alone could increase. Indeed, ophthalmologists now actively encourage the use of these supplements.

The Age Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) 2, a large, American, multicentred, randomized clinical trial, examined factors that affect the progression of AMD on 4757 participants aged 55–80 years followed up for 6.3 years on the average. The study investigated the effect of high daily doses of vitamin C (500 mg/day) and E (400 IU/day), beta-carotene (15 mg/day), zinc oxide (80 mg/day) and cupric oxide (2 mg/day) (copper), the so-called AREDS formula, and found 25% reduction in visual acuity loss in participants with intermediate or advanced AMD on the formula.

The study did not investigate whether the formula could prevent AMD. Additionally, participants were healthy, well nourished, and did not smoke. It is important to emphasize the latter point as studies, not AREDS, have shown a link between beta carotene, although and heightened cancer risk in some persons, and studies utilizing comparable doses of beta carotene have shown an increased cancer incidence and death rates in persons at high risk for cancer of the lung such as cigarette smokers and asbestos workers3.

Yet, new research continues to surface on the beneficial effects of these and other vitamins. A study published in the January 2008 issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology found that diets rich in lutein, zeaxanthin, found in yellow or dark leafy vegetables, and vitamin E from supplements or food, reduced the risk of cataracts4. The authors noted that the antioxidant properties of these substances protect against the damages to eye lens proteins and fiber cell membranes that reactive oxygen species cause, the species involved mechanisms that underlie the oxidative hypothesis of cataract formation.

Vitamins E and C, beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin are all antioxidants, and we would likely see widespread public health education on their increased use as vitamin supplements in cataract prevention. Another recent study, published in the January 14, 2008 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine noted that vitamin D2 supplements appear to help prevent falls among high-risk older women5.

Specifically, the researchers found that participants, who were seniors with a history of falling, that have insufficient vitamin D, and live in sunny climates benefited from ergocalciferol supplementation in addition to calcium, and had a 19% reduction in the relative risk of falling, typically in winter. With about a third of women older than 65 years falling each year, resulting in a fracture in about 6 percent of the women, and fear of falling understandably a major problem among seniors, that ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) treatment could help prevent this problem is noteworthy.

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