September 30, 2005

Tinking of popping a vitamin pill during flu season? Think again

NEWMARKET – With the arrival of flu season, many Canadians take to swallowing large doses of vitamin and mineral supplements in the hopes that they can ward off the flu or steer clear from the common cold.  Nutritionists from York Region Health Services say that in addition to getting your annual flu shot, it is also vital to focus on making healthy lifestyle choices.  When it comes to good health, taking vitamin-mineral supplements is not an effective alternative to eating healthy foods. 
Over one third of Canadians take vitamin-mineral supplements, many of them for the wrong reasons. Foods such as vegetables and fruit are packed with beneficial vitamins and minerals. Many people may think that isolating these nutrients and taking them as a pill would be just as good. Others may think that popping a pill would also make it easier to get more, and of course, more is better. Right?
Wrong.  Despite the proliferation of the supplement industry and the popular belief that taking vitamin supplements is a sure way to stay healthy and even prevent diseases such as heart disease and cancer, the research does not seem to support this notion. Recent articles in medical journals have attacked this idea arguing that there is just no evidence to support these statements, and in fact, excessive supplementation may even be harmful.  Scientists agree that vitamins and minerals taken through supplements do not provide the same health benefits as the nutrients we get from food.
“Food contains a variety of vitamins and minerals, in addition to many other beneficial compounds, such as fibre, antioxidants and phytochemicals.  It appears that consuming these nutrients in their natural form allows them to work together to provide numerous health benefits and prevent disease,” says Nancy Bevilacqua, Public Health Nutritionist from York Region Health Services. “Scientists are still trying to discover why this is so, but it appears that isolating individual nutrients into a pill does not seem to provide the same health benefit.”
Recently, there has been much debate about various nutrients, such as vitamin C, E and beta-carotene. Contrary to popular belief, studies indicate that taking large doses of vitamin C supplements regularly does not lower your chances of getting the common cold.
Furthermore,where it was once thought that high doses of these vitamins taken through pills could prevent heart disease or cancer, recent studies have indicated that this is simply not the case. In fact, taking large doses of individual vitamins, such as vitamin A, C, and E is not necessary, and may be harmful in certain cases. For example, taking large doses of B-carotene or vitamin A may result in reduced bone mineral density leading to osteoporosis, or may increase the risk for lung cancer in smokers.
As part a healthy lifestyle, a well-balanced diet following Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating is the best way to stay healthy, keep the immune system strong and prevent disease.  Instead of a vitamin pill, try the following guidelines to healthy eating:
• Choose whole grain and enriched breads, cereals, pasta and rice
• Eat a wide variety of dark green and orange vegetables and orange fruits – aim for 5-10 servings a day
• Drink milk or eat milk products such as low-fat cheese or yogurt
• Enjoy protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, tofu, beans, chickpeas, lentils and nuts
Though there is no harm in taking a multivitamin-mineral supplement, there is no compelling evidence demonstrating its benefits. Certain groups of people require vitamin-mineral supplements, such as women in childbearing years, older adults and vegetarians.  If a person chooses to take a supplement, they should first consult with their physician.
For more information on this or other health-related topics, contact York Region Health Services Health Connection at 1-800-361-5653 or visit .
Available upon request -  Printable flyer: “Focus on Food – Vitamin-mineral supplements are not a good replacement for healthy eating habits.”

Contact:  Kim Clark, York Region Health Services
   905-830-4444 Ext.4101  

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