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Supplements not so special

It’s a common part of an everyday routine: take a shower, eat something and — most importantly, for some — take a daily vitamin. Unfortunately for health nuts, a new study has found that some of the positive effects attributed to vitamins are nothing more than myth.

A study conducted by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center concluded that using a multivitamin supplement does nothing to lower the risk of common cancers, cardiovascular disease or overall mortality. 

According to the research center, more than half of the American population regularly uses multivitamin supplements despite a lack of information about their long-term benefits.

The study followed 162,000 women for eight years.

In a report published on the research center’s Web site, Marian L. Neuhouser, an associate member of the Public Health Sciences Division at the Hutchinson Center, said it is important to get essential nutrients from food and that it is better to get nutrients from whole foods than from dietary supplements.

Neuhouser is not alone. Kim May, registered dietician at USF Student Health Services (SHS), said the study’s results are not surprising.

“We are beginning to see more and more evidence which demonstrates that vitamin and mineral supplements do not protect against heart disease or cancer,” she said.

Ashley Mazurek, nutrition and exercise lifestyle coach and owner of Balanced Body in Tampa, said the effects of vitamins are relatively indirect and people should focus on the root causes of diseases.

“It is important to go into what may cause disease, what kind of external stressors exist in a person’s life,” she said. “Rather than only looking at one thing, I look at the whole body — all contributing factors.”

Mazurek said taking a supplement doesn’t get to the cause of the problem.

“Disease should be prevented by making healthy, simple, natural lifestyle choices. Do something that makes you happy,” she said.

May said that though vitamin supplements are beneficial and necessary in cases of vitamin deficiency, in most cases they are not.

“The take-home message is that more vitamins or minerals are not necessarily beneficial, and certain excesses of vitamins and minerals may be harmful,” she said.

Mazurek said taking vitamin supplements is less important than sticking to a healthy lifestyle, and people should be concerned with their overall health rather than fixing every little thing wrong with them.

“It’s not that the ship is put together with golden nails but that the ship is golden itself,” she said. “A supplement is just that — an extra-dietary supplement.”

Neuhouser, May and Mazurek all recommended getting necessary vitamins and minerals from food rather than dietary supplements.

“A balanced diet based on whole foods provides all the nutrients needed,” May said. “Whole foods offer the best source of vitamins and minerals. They also aid their absorption and metabolism due to natural components found in the foods.”

College students may have difficulty putting the extra time and money into planning nutritious meals that meet their bodies’ dietary needs.

May said many people may choose to use multivitamin supplements because it is easier than eating a healthy and balanced diet.

“Advocating for healthier food environments and planning for healthy eating during the day can help improve eating habits and meet nutrient needs,” she said.

SHS offers wellness presentations, including “Eat Smart, Live Smart,” which discusses ways to eat healthfully and manage weight in college. It is required before requesting a consultation for personal nutrition counseling at SHS.

SHS offers nutrition counseling and a variety of presentations to campus groupes, classes and organizations. SHS is located next to the Bookstore and can be reached at 813-974-4936.