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VITAMINS MAY NOT BE A GOOD INVESTMENT

Americans spend about $4 billion a year on vitamin and mineral supplements. Unfortunately, many of the people taking these supplements probably don't need them.

Even worse, people taking "megadoses" of vitamins and minerals, or taking supplements on top of medications without their doctor's advice, could be risking their health.These are some common myths:

- YOU CAN'T GET ALL THE VITAMINS AND MINERALS YOU NEED FROM FOOD. Wrong. Not only can you, but you're better off getting them from a balanced diet. Foods contain unique combinations of nutrients and other beneficial substances that are important for good health in ways we don't fully understand and cannot yet duplicate in pills.

- MORE IS BETTER. False. Taking large doses of some nutrients, say 10 to 100 times the RDA, can prevent other vitamins you need from being absorbed properly and can sometimes cause serious health problems.

- WHAT YOU DON'T NEED WILL PASS OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM. Mostly wrong. It's true of some vitamins, but others, including A and D, are stored in the body and can cause harm. Too much vitamin A can eventually cause liver damage and other health problems, and too much D can cause kidney damage. Both can become killers in large doses.

- VITAMINS GIVE YOU MORE ENERGY. Wrong again. Your body can convert carbohydrates and fats into energy, but not vitamins. Vitamins don't provide energy because they don't contain calories.

- SOME SUPPLEMENTS WILL PROTECT YOU FROM DISEASE. Not necessarily. Be wary about such claims and ask your doctor before you take anything other than a multivitamin.