Your Guide to Vitamin Supplements

What are vitamin supplements anyway? Are they necessary? After all, if you eat a proper diet, aren’t you supposed to be getting all the nutrients you need? Well, sure, if you are following that nutrition pyramid down to the last block every day. But how many of you are really eating five servings of fruit and vegetables each and every day? And even if you are intaking the servings, are you really storing and preparing the foods properly enough to ensure that you’re getting the full nutritional complement?

Chances are that you are not. Which is where vitamin supplements come in. Multivitamin supplements may-and I cannot emphasize enough that word “may-help boost your immunity system, help fight depression, lower high blood pressure, and protect against both heart attacks and strokes. In addition, supplements may-there’s that word again-speed up the recovery process of patients with an illness or injury that prevents them from getting proper nutrition, and improve the health of pregnant women. Contrary to some myths and urban legends you may have come across on the internet, vitamin supplements have not been proven effective in treating schizophrenia or hyperactivity.

So what should you look for when shopping for supplements? First be aware that as long as the Republicans are in power, there isn’t going to be any attempt to regulate supplements. So take what’s on the label with a grain of salt. Many times in tests vitamins have proven to contain far less nutritional value than what is promised. And you certainly can’t go by the price tag. Vitamins aren’t like cars; you can’t assume that the most expensive ones are the best. (Not that this applies to all cars, but let’s face it, a Mercedes is probably going to be better than a Yugo.) Much like prescription drugs, generic is just as good as brand name when it comes to supplements. If you really want to get the skinny on lab analysis of supplements your best bet is to go to where you can get access to lab results and other tests.

If you’re in a store and you don’t have ready access to the internet, then first check out whether USP is on the label. USP stands for US Pharmacopeia, which is an organization that creates quality standards for supplements. Finding USP on the label by no means guarantees that you are getting a high quality pill, but until Congress is filled with lawmakers who care more about your health than lining the pockets of already filthy rich owners of unregulated health industry companies, it’s your best shot. Also of note is the fact that compliance with US Pharmacopeia is completely voluntary on the part of the manufacturer.

Another thing one should be aware of when shopping for supplements are wonderful-sounding but totally meaningless advertising buzzwords. (Meaningless advertising buzzwordsâÂ?¦isn’t that a total redundancy?) Phrases such as “guaranteed potency,” “highly concentrated,” “natural,” “essential,” and “clinically proven” have absolutely no meanings which have been agreed upon by nutritional experts or a regulatory governing body. On the other hand, “high potency” is an FDA-approved term meaning that a multivitamin has 100% or more of the DV for at least 2/3 of the vitamins and minerals it contains.

Well that’s great news, but what the heck is DV? When choosing a multivitamin by label, always take a look at % DV figure. DV simply stands for Daily Value, in other words the percentage of recommended daily value of each nutritional supplement. Obviously if the label says you are only getting 25% of a vitamin that you don’t feel you’re getting enough of naturally, you may want to look elsewhere. If the vitamin only supplies 25% of Vitamin C and you make sure you drink two glasses of orange juice for breakfast every day, then you’re probably okay. Another thing to beware of, though, are vitamins that oversupply the DV. Some vitamins jack up their prices by giving you up to and beyond figures like 3000% DV for certain of the cheaper B vitamins. The psychology behind is the good old wow factor. You take a look at that and figure you are set. The only problem is you don’t really need that much of those vitamins but you’re paying extra for them anyway.

And while you’re looking at inflated figures on the label, also be aware of such bells and whistles as claims that the supplements are “time-released.” As of right now, and here we go again with the question of why regulation is fought so hard against by certain members of a certain political party, there is no regulation requiring that supplement makers actually prove their claims of time-release. Now, the fact that the vitamin isn’t being absorbed gradually may not seem like a big deal, but you have to consider the fact that if the time release takes too long, then the tablet isn’t going to dissolve until it wends its way through your system all the way to your intestines. A vitamin finally taking effect inside your intestines isn’t going to get absorbed into your system at all. It’s too late! You’re going to poop out all the benefits.

Also be wary of multivitamins that require more than one tablet. Besides the fact that the label is misleading when you read it-you may think you’re buying a vitamin that gives you 100% DV of iron with one pill when it really takes three, these kind of vitamins are also usually are packed with such wonderful sounding things as spirulina, bee pollen, wheat grass and alfalfa concentrate. Most of the time these ingredients are added in such small amounts that they only serve to crowd out the ingredients that you’re really forking the money over for in the first place.

If you manage to find a vitamin that doesn’t need require three pills just to make sure you get 10% of DV of kelp, make sure you take it regularly. Like a new car (hey, I guess vitamins are like a car, after all), once you buy vitamins-or at least once you open the sealed cap-they immediately begin to lose their value. Most vitamins will maintain their effectiveness for about a year, or a day after their expiration date, whichever comes first. Since heat, light and air are the main culprits here, try to store your vitamins in a cool, dark place.

Don’t expect supplements to change your health overnight. Some supplements are designed for specific conditions and you should always wait at least a month or two before making your final decision on whether the vitamin seems to be helping or not. It may actually be helping without your even knowing it. Often people who are taking vitamins are avoiding illnesses that they might have gotten had they not been taking the vitamin.

Not all supplements come in the traditional multivitamin format. When it comes to specific requirements, you may want to take a look at alternative substances. For instance, there are the flavonoids, antioxidant compounds responsible for the coloring and flavoring of certain fruits and veggies. Taking just 40 to 1,000 mg a day of these substances help with blood flow and preventing blood clots.

Carotenoids are also compounds used to plants their color, in this case red, orange and yellow plants. Taking 6 to 15mg a day can help with eyesight or lowering risk of prostate cancer.

Isoflavones are estrogen-like plant compounds and taking daily dosages of these help women deal with osteoporosis, cholesterol and certain menopausal symptoms.

Amino acids and similar compounds are usually taken in larger doses, often several times a day, and are beneficial in dealing with heart disease, arthritis, cold sores, and even depression.

Vitamin supplements cannot replace a well rounded, healthy diet, but most of us either don’t have the time or the cooperating taste buds to allow us to eat everything we need in order to get all the nutritional requirements we need every day. Fortunately, whether you take the standard multivitamin or one of the increasing number of more focused supplements on the market, just about everyone can benefit from vitamins. Just be sure to consult a doctor first because in addition to the benefits of taking supplements, there are also plenty of dangers to be aware of if you take the wrong thing. It pays to read the label and make sure you are diligent about dosage and proper storage.

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