A morning multivitamin. A couple of E's. Maybe some C. A
protein shake for lunch. A calcium pill or two, later in the day. We've come a
long way since our Flintstones days. But are Americans overdoing it?
The next time your doctor writes you a prescription, consider this: The
medication may not be approved for your specific condition or age group.
But you probably shouldn't call the medical board. The practice, called
"off-label" prescribing, is entirely legal and very common. More than one
in five outpatient prescriptions written in the U.S. are for off-label
"Off-label" means the medication is being used in a manner not specified in
the FDA's approved packaging label, or insert...
It's true, vitamin-fortified foods are flying off store
shelves. Even orange juice comes with calcium and vitamin D. Energy bars,
meal-replacement drinks, protein shakes, cereal bars, cereal itself -- all
claim lots of vitamins and minerals, up to 100% of the recommended daily
Then, too, specially blended multivitamins -- with hot new
"additives" such as green tea -- are nearly irresistible to health
But you do the math: You could be getting up to 500% of the
RDA, maybe more, in one day's time -- up to five times what your body needs.
Are we toting up toxic levels of vitamins? Or throwing our money away?
Experts Weigh In
Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, RD, professor of nutrition at Georgia State University in Atlanta,
counsels plenty of people who are overdoing it.
"If you're eating two energy bars a day, plus a protein
shake that is vitamin fortified, plus taking vitamin supplements, you don't need all that," says
But most people still aren't getting the right vitamins
despite their best efforts, says Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, professor of nutrition
at Tufts University in Boston. "Most people need a multivitamin as
'insurance.' Everybody needs to eat more healthfully. While you're trying to
get there, take supplements."
In fact, many people don't know what they're taking,
Rosenbloom says. "They're picking up OJ at the store, and they don't know
what's in it -- is it calcium-fortified, they don't know. People are taking
vitamin C supplements but don't know how much."
A Tidbit of Data
A couple of years ago, the Institute of Medicine issued a report listing
"tolerable upper intake level" for all vitamins and minerals -- the
maximum safe amount that anyone should take.
The upper tolerable limit for adults is 10,000 IU for vitamin
A. You get it from animal foods, fish, and dairy products. Also, beta-carotene
(from orange and yellow veggies) gets converted to vitamin A in the body.
"But the body is smart enough that it doesn't convert all that to vitamin
A," Rosenbloom explains.
If you're taking a multivitamin that contains 5,000 IU, plus
getting A-fortified foods in your diet,
plus eating foods that contain vitamin A, you're probably OK. "It's the
supplements we worry about. It's easy to overdo it with pills," she