Surprising Deficiencies, Even with Supplements
In a nation of plenty, nutrient deficiencies might seem a thing of the past. Gone are the days of scurvy, resulting from too little vitamin C in the diet. Similarly, beriberi—caused by a lack of thiamine (vitamin B1)—is virtually unknown in developed countries. So the results of a new study showing that some Americans are coming up short on several key nutrients, even people who take dietary supplements, come as a surprise.
The new study, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, finds that middle-aged and older adults could still be at risk for low levels of several important nutrients, possibly increasing their risk of disease.
• Calcium—essential for bone and cardiovascular health
• Magnesium—plays a role in regulating blood pressure, inflammation, blood sugar, and bone density
• Potassium—helps regulate blood pressure and vitamin C function in blood vessel and immune system health
“Despite the strong association between supplement use and meeting the RDA [Recommended Dietary Allowance] for calcium and magnesium, still about half of supplement users are not meeting the requirements for these nutrients,” say the study’s authors.
Are supplements the answer?
The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis looked at diet and supplement use in 6,814 white, African American, Hispanic, and Chinese American people, ages 45 to 84.
People who took calcium, vitamin C, and magnesium supplements were more likely than nonusers to meet recommended daily intakes of these nutrients, but many were still not reaching daily total goals. The effect of supplemental vitamins and minerals also varied by sex and race:
• Chinese Americans and African Americans tended to show the greatest effect from calcium supplementation.
• Women were more likely than men to meet calcium intake goals by taking supplements.
• Potassium supplements didn’t seem to make a difference in terms of meeting recommended intake levels, probably because the amount of potassium in supplements is low relative the amount that can be obtained from a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
Food first, then vitamins
The new study highlights the disparity between the wealth and variety of foods available in the United States and the fact that the nutritional numbers just aren’t adding up. Before dashing off to stock your vitamin closet, make sure that you’re eating a well-rounded diet.
• Choose organic foods whenever possible, as they have more nutritional value than conventionally grown foods.
• Opt for whole foods, as many nutrients are lost in processing. While food manufacturers add a few of the lost nutrients by enriching or fortifying processed foods, many of the other lost nutrients are not replaced. Eating minimally processed foods is therefore one of the best ways to assure adequate nutrient intake.
After assuring that your diet is top notch, fill in any nutritional gaps with a high-quality multivitamin-mineral supplement. Your natural healthcare provider can make a recommendation based on your personal health history.
May 14, 2009
(J Am Diet Assoc 2009;109:422–9)
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, and now sees patients in East Greenwich and Wakefield. Inspired by her passion for healthful eating and her own young daughters, Dr. Beauchamp is currently writing a book about optimizing children’s health through better nutrition.
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