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Adding vitamin E, calcium a good idea

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Update: In my last article, I discussed the necessity of taking vitamin/mineral supplements for maintaining health and reviewed some studies that suggested certain benefits.

Evidence shows that a well-balanced diet can help guard against many major diseases that are associated with poor nutrition. In addition, studies suggested that of the people who need multivitamins, most are those who won't or can't eat a nutritious diet (older people, people with certain diseases, etc.).

According to an article in the Consumer Reports OnHealth magazine (October 2000), calcium and vitamin E are two nutrients that may need to be added to your diet, even if your eat right and take a multivitamin/mineral supplement.

While it is possible to get enough calcium without taking supplements, most people fall short in this important bone-building nutrient. According to experts, those below age 50 should get a total of 1,000 milligrams a day. Men over 50 and postmenopausal women taking bone-bolstering drugs should get 1,200 mg. All other postmenopausal women and everyone over age 65 should get 1,500 mg a day.

As for vitamin E, the National Academy of Sciences reports there is really not enough evidence to conclude that it wards off chronic disease. However, there is considerable observational evidence that this nutrient does supply at least some protection against heart attack, colon cancer and possibly prostate cancer.

Since it is difficult to get the amount of vitamin E — 200 to 400 IU (international units) — linked with possible disease protection from a lean diet, and since most multivitamin supplements provide only about 30 IU to 60 IU, it might be wise to take a daily, single-ingredient supplement containing the higher levels mentioned above. If you are taking and anti-clotting drug or aspirin, be sure to ask your personal physician before taking vitamin E.

Women who menstruate heavily should ask their doctor whether they need extra iron to prevent anemia; however, too much iron can be a problem in certain people and can increase the risk of coronary disease and cancer.

Which multivitamins/minerals would be best for you? According to the Consumer Reports article, multivitamin/mineral supplements typically carry from I I to 26 different vitamins and minerals (not including trace elements). They recommended buying a supplement that contained vitamins A, C, D, E and the B vitamins — thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, folic acid and vitamin B12 — and the minerals chromium, copper, iodine, magnesium and zinc.

A second group of vitamins was considered generally not worth looking for in a supplement, either because people are rarely deficient in them or because their nutritional value is minimal or unclear. This group included biotin, chloride, manganese, molybdenum, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin K and trace elements such as boron, nickel, silicon, tin and vanadium.

The National Academy of Sciences has set "tolerable upper intake levels" for certain vitamins and minerals and warned that extremely large doses may lead to health problems.

The article mentioned that many multivitamin brands stamp their packaging with terms such as "maximum," "complete," "stress formula" and "more energy." Those are just marketing words and really do not describe clearly the role of these supplements.

They also suggested avoiding supplements with herbs such as ginkgo, ginger, ginseng, etc. If you choose to take herbs, consume them separately. Also, the report mentioned that many store and generic brands contained the same nutritional formulation and would work as well as the more expensive name brands.

Garth Fisher is director of the Human Performance Research Center at Brigham Young University.