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Popping too many supplements

By Zhang Qian (Shanghai Daily)

13:56, April 19, 2012

TAKE vitamin C to protect yourself from catching cold. Take vitamin E and beta-carotene for heart health. Take vitamin D to help your body absorb calcium. This advice is conventional wisdom but not all of these and other vitamin truisms are true, or always advisable.

In recent years research has shown that.

The importance of sufficient vitamins was recognized long before vitamins themselves were identified. Ancient Egyptians knew that animal liver can help cure night blindness, which can result from a deficiency in vitamin A. As Europeans began to explore the world in the 17th and 18th centuries, sailors began to recognize the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables to prevent and treat scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency. British sailors were given fresh limes for their health, hence the name limey. Many sailors, especially Asian, also suffered beriberi, a deficiency of vitamin B1, because they ate polished milled white rice that lacked the nutritious hulls.

Today many people are aware of the importance of vitamins and good nutrition. But the benefits of large doses of some vitamins and supplements have been misunderstood and exaggerated. Some people rely too much on vitamin supplements - both multiple vitamins and specific vitamins - instead of the fresh foods containing vitamins.

Most people don't need to take supplements if they eat healthy, varied and balanced diets, according to most doctors and nutritionists. And taking too much can be dangerous.

Research in 2009 by the US Women's Health Initiative on 160,000 middle-aged women showed that those who took daily multi-vitamins were no healthier than those who did not; researchers found no link between vitamin intake and cardiovascular disease, cancer or dying.

Because access to fresh fruits and vegetables was once limited, many people took vitamins instead. Though fresh food is now widely available, many people still take unnecessary vitamins.

"As long as we eat a balanced diet, there's little risk of vitamin deficiency," says local nutritionist Yang Feng. "Besides, multi-vitamins cannot supply everything."

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