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Do Vitamin Supplements Make Sense?

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Fish Oil continued...

Why might eating fish be better than taking fish oil? Experts say that like all whole foods, fish are complex mixtures of vital nutrients. It could be that all those nutrients work together to provide the benefit. Or it may be that fish replaces less healthy sources of protein in the diet, like red meat.

Until more is known, experts say there doesn’t seem to be any harm in taking fish oil, as long as you don’t mind spending the money.

Vitamin E

Doctors had high hopes that vitamin E might prevent cancer and heart disease, but the best studies of vitamin E have failed to show benefits from taking supplements. Instead, some studies have suggested that taking large doses of vitamin E might be risky.

One large trial randomly assigned more than 35,000 men to take vitamin E, selenium, both supplements, or a placebo pill. After seven years, doctors found that men who took vitamin E were about 17% more likely to develop prostate cancer compared to those taking the placebo.

Another study that randomly assigned 10,000 men and women at high risk for heart disease to take either vitamin E or a placebo daily for almost five years found no differences in the numbers of deaths, heart attacks, or strokes between the groups.

Vitamin C

While a few small studies have shown that C may shorten the length of a cold, the vast majority have found no effect of the vitamin on preventing or shortening colds. In addition, a recent large study of nearly 49,000 Swedish men found those who took about 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C supplements a day were about twice as likely as those who didn’t take supplements to develop kidney stones 11 years later. 

Calcium and Vitamin D

Milk, whether it’s cow’s milk or fortified soy or almond milk, is one of the best sources of calcium in the diet, and Americans don’t drink enough of it, according to the USDA. As a result, calcium and vitamin D were listed as a “shortfall nutrients” in the latest dietary guidelines.

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