Vogue delivers the “skinny” on vitamins
January 6, 2011
On a recent spa visit to Mexico, a Vogue beauty editor underwent a thorough airport bag search because of a bulging Ziploc of vitamins. With humiliation came clarity of vision. Were all these vitamins really necessary? So, she consulted five experts in health and nutrition and pared down her daily vitamin intake.
JoAnn E. Manson, M.D., Harvard professor and chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, whose vitamin intake is limited to a multi and a low dose of calcium, says that vitamins touted as miracle-workers, such as C, selenium, folic acid, E and the B vitamins, have generally not lived up to their press. In fact, beta carotene, taken in high doses, was confirmed by the National Cancer Institute in July 2010, as increasing lung cancer incidence in high-intensity smokers. Manson suggests a conservative approach to vitamin D, for which the current RDA is 200 i.u.’s, urging against megadoses until randomized clinical trials demonstrate that benefits outweigh risks. While vitamin C may possibly be instrumental in preventing colds, she warns that taking more than 2,000 mg daily may cause kidney stones.
Americans take vitamins not only to optimize health, but also as beauty elixirs, such as biotin for hair and alpha lipoic acid for skin. Donna Weihofen, R.D., M.S., senior nutritionist at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics bursts the biotin myth: “If you’re biotin deficient, you lose your hair, so they made the leap that ‘Oh, your hair will be better with biotin.’ But there’s no credible evidence that taking extra biotin is going to do anything marvelous for your hair.” But, according to Weihofen, alpha-lipoic acid “has been found in some studies to improve skin.”
The most definitive recommendations come from Balz Frei, Ph.D., director of the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. Frei recommends taking a multivitamin. He also recommends 1,200 to 2,000 mg of fish oil supplement daily; the higher doses are for those who do not eat fish. He recommends vitamin D, but you should determine your dosage by taking a blood test to assess your D levels. Calcium is also a must since it’s tricky to get the required dose (1,000 to 1,200 mg), through food. Pregnant women or women trying to conceive should take folic acid, which prevents birth defects, and vegans should take B12, which is found in meat. He also recommends a lesser-known supplement, a combination of lutein and zeaxanthin, which has been shown to decrease the risk of macular degeneration.
Diane F. Birt, Ph.D., director of the Center for Research on Botanical Dietary Supplements at Iowa State University, urges you to discuss your vitamin intake with your doctor. Supplements can interact adversely with each other and also with other prescription drugs. She also recommends another technique for maintaining a healthy glow: Get some sleep.
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