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April 13, 2000 (Philadelphia) -- If ordinary Americans end this week with more questions than answers about vitamins and supplements, take heart -- most physicians are just as confused.

Since the beginning of the year, there has been a flurry of papers and studies on vitamin and supplement use -- often with contradictory findings -- and just this week, the prestigious Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report stating that antioxidants like vitamins C and E have no proven role in the prevention of disease. That report came a day after a report in a medical journal suggested that increasing vitamin C intake may protect women from gallbladder disease. No wonder confusion reigns.

After sorting through the headlines and the hype, John La Puma, MD, tells WebMD that the best advice for patients remains "eat healthy foods, not pills." La Puma spoke here at the annual meeting of a group that represents many of American's primary care physicians.

La Puma, who is medical director of the Cooking, Healthy Eating & Fitness (CHEF) Clinic in Elk Grove Village, Ill., says that the report from the IOM -- rather than adding to the confusion -- may help sort things out for both doctors and patients.

For example, the IOM report recommends changes in the recommended daily intake for vitamins C and E and selenium. "The original recommendations for vitamin C were based on the amount needed to prevent scurvy [weakening of bone and cartilage due to vitamin C deficiency]," says La Puma. He says that in modern America, scurvy is not the public health concern that it was 100 years ago. The IOM recommends increasing the levels to 75 milligrams per day for women and 90 milligrams per day for men. Additionally, the report says that smokers need an additional 35 milligrams per day. "Adding the recommendation for smokers is especially important" because smokers have increased damage that could be helped by antioxidants, La Puma says. He says, however, "I've never seen vitamin C sold in anything less than 250 milligrams, so this is what most patients will be taking."

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