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Buy high-quality vitamins, says speaker

by Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu - May 30, 2006

Taking vitamins can have significant health benefits, but consumers should purchase them from a health food store or licensed health practitioner whenever possible, according to the Health Center’s Dr. Mitch Kennedy.

Buy the highest quality vitamins you can afford, said Kennedy, who was the first naturopathic doctor to practice at the Health Center: “You get what you pay for.”

Kennedy made his remarks during a noontime talk, “Which Vitamins Are Right For You?”

His presentation, on May 22 in Farmington, was also videocast to Storrs.

Unlike pharmaceutical drugs, which have to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, nutritional supplements are not regulated, Kennedy said.

You can’t be sure that what you get is what’s on the label.

Discount stores are “competing on cost, so they look for the cheapest packaging, stabilization, and delivery, and you get the cheapest results – if any,” he said.

“If you buy vitamins from a discount food store, you will find additives. These have no nutritional value, and get in the way of absorption,” he added.

“Pay as much as you can for what’s available from health food stores or a licensed health practitioner.”

Kennedy said vitamins can be effective in supplementing a person’s diet and helping fight disease.

Taking a multivitamin for at least 60 days leads to a significant decrease in dental disease, for example, as well as reduced risk of heart disease and colon cancer, he said.

Vitamins help the body process pollutants from air and water, as well as the hormones and pesticides used in food production.

They can also compensate for the nutrients that are increasingly missing in vegetables and fruits, as intensive agriculture depletes the soil’s trace minerals.

“One reason why organic food is more nutritious,” Kennedy said, “is that organic farming practices add minerals back into the soil.”

He said food preparation methods can also destroy naturally occurring nutrients.

“When you steam, blanch, broil, or freeze green leafy vegetables, you destroy the B vitamins and the minerals that help you absorb the vitamins,” he said.

“You should eat vegetables as close to raw as possible.”

Kennedy said in addition to the “one-a-day” approach to nutritional supplements, he and many other health professionals use vitamins and herbs in therapeutic doses to treat specific diseases.

Deciding what vitamins to take, he maintained, should be based on an individual’s personal and family history.

“People come in to me and they have a wash basin full of bottles,” he said. “They’re taking 50 to 60 pills a day. After a while, they don’t remember why.”

He said that in general, a high quality multivitamin is a good place to start.

Some of the basics are the antioxidants – Vitamins C, E, and A – which protect the tissues in the body by neutralizing the damaging effects of free radicals; Vitamin D, which reduces the risk of colon cancer; and the B vitamins, which help the body respond to stress, he said.

“If you have adequate amounts of the B vitamins, you have fewer cravings for sugar, a better attention span, better memory, and longer endurance,” Kennedy said.

“They also help regulate the sleep/ wake cycle. … [and] detoxify pollutants.”

He cautioned that nutritional supplements can interact with medications, and advised anyone taking them to provide their doctor with a complete list.

Kennedy said it is generally best to take vitamins with food, because they are then more easily absorbed.

Some herbs, however – such as Ginkgo, to improve memory – are better taken separately, because they are not strong and food can reduce their effectiveness.

He said the form of the vitamins affects the body’s ability to absorb the active component.

“When a tablet is manufactured, it is compressed, and a coating, color, and polish may be added. The body has to dissolve what’s on the outside, and there’s only a short period of time to do that after swallowing a pill. Sometimes as little as 10 percent of a tablet is dissolved,” he said.

“It’s best to go with capsules, which have a thin wall, usually made of animal tissue or cellulose.”

Kennedy advised consumers to treat mail order vitamin companies with caution.

“You should be suspicious of anybody on the Internet or late night TV or who takes out a full page ad in the AARP newsletter, because that’s expensive. If they’re making a quality product, why are they spending so much money on marketing instead of on the product?” he said.  

Kennedy said there is a growing body of research on nutritional supplements. NIH, for example, funds studies through the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The talk was sponsored by Celebrate Women, a Health Center program that seeks to help improve the health of women, and the Women’s Center. The videocast can be viewed at www.celebrate.uchc.edu.

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