Reversing a long-standing anti-vitamin policy, The Journal of the American Medical Association today is advising all adults to take at least one multivitamin pill each day.
Scientists' understanding of the benefits of vitamins has rapidly advanced,
and it now appears that people who get enough vitamins may be able to prevent
such common chronic illnesses as cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis, according
to Drs. Robert Fletcher and Kathleen Fairfield of Harvard University, who wrote
the new guidelines.
That was at a time when knowledge about vitamins was just beginning to expand. The role that low levels of folate, or folic acid, play in neural tube defects, for instance, was not known, nor was its role as a major risk factor for heart disease.
Researchers hope JAMA's endorsement will encourage more people to reap health benefits of a daily multivitamin.
Health experts are increasingly worried that most American adults do not consume healthy amounts of vitamins in their diet, although they may be getting enough to ward off such vitamin-deficiency disorders as scurvy, beriberi and pellagra.
Almost 80 percent of Americans do not eat at least five helpings of fruits and vegetables a day, the recommended minimum amount believed to provide sufficient essential nutrients. Humans do not make their own vitamins, except for some vitamin D, and they must get them from an outside source to prevent metabolic disorders.
"It's nice to see this change in philosophy that's saying we can make public-health recommendations based on this really compelling set of data," said Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg, chief of antioxidant research at Tufts University's Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging.
Blumberg said the JAMA recommendations underscore a growing concern among nutrition
experts that the recommended daily allowances, or RDAs, for many vitamins are
set too low.
Even people who eat five daily servings of fruits and vegetables may not get
enough of certain vitamins for optimum health, Fletcher said. Most people, for
instance, cannot get the healthiest levels of folate and vitamins D and E from
recommended diets, he said.
Because foods contain thousands of vitaminlike compounds - many not yet identified - that may be important for good health, vitamin supplements should not be a substitute for a wholesome diet, Blumberg said.
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