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Health Zone: Dr Miriam Stoppard's Health Focus; Today: The truth about vitamins and mineral supplements.

Byline: Miriam Stoppard

THERE seems to be an unstoppable craze for popping vitamins and supplements.

Despite a growing number of warnings that this is misguided, a waste of money and may do you harm, the band wagon rolls on.

No supplement manufacturer will give up their franchise in the cash bonanza without a fight, and it's this commercial pressure for profits that won't let the myths die.

Myths about vitamins and supplements abound. Most of the touted benefits of vitamins and supplements are myths.

Contrary to popular belief, there's no evidence that a hit of vitamin C wards off colds, while some scientists think that doses of more than 500 milligrams a day can increase the risk of cancer and heart disease.

Add to this the fact that manufacturers knowingly sell supplements with lower than advertised levels of the active ingredient, and we would have to say that some of the myths are out-and- out cons.

Check out the facts.

Hits and myths"If a vitamin is good for us we can swallow it in any form we like, be it pill, capsule, jelly or powder"

THIS is a MYTH.

The body simply can't use a vitamin or mineral unless it's surrounded with the thousands of micronutrients in a natural food.

Taken alone as a pill, the body rejects it and you literally flush it down the toilet.

In the table on the right I outline what some essential nutrients need (and they're by no means all) to be assimilated by us.

"If a little of a vitamin does you good, a lot must be better"

THIS is a MYTH.

Most vitamins and minerals are poisons - they'll stop the body working properly or injure it if taken in excess.

And that can mean mega-doses over a short period - so DON'T take mega-doses of vitamin C for a cold - or moderate doses over a long period - so DON'T takes vitamin B6 every month for PMS.

One of the reasons why overdosing on a vitamin or supplement harms you is because taking an extra dose of one vitamin can lower levels of another.

In addition, falling short of one mineral can prevent absorption of another seemingly unrelated one.

Consequently a high dose of one vitamin or mineral can produce the same symptoms as a deficiency of another.

TOO much calcium can cause a deficiency in iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorous by preventing their absorption.

All these minerals are vital for bone health and prolonged deficiency can lead to osteoporosis - the condition you were trying to prevent in the first place by taking calcium supplements.

TOO much vitamin D, which enhances the absorption of calcium, can cause a potassium deficiency.

TOO much vitamin A, the antioxidant, loosely said to help prevent premature ageing, increases the body's need for another antioxidant, vitamin E, which is said to protect against heart disease.

TOO much vitamin E is now thought to cause strokes.

TOO much selenium, the popular antioxidant, can lead to brittle nails and hair loss.

"You can rely on supplements to boost an unhealthy lifestyle"

THIS is a MYTH.

It's no good thinking that you can be careless with your body and then pop a handful of vitamins thinking you're fireproof. Far from it.

If you smoke, for instance, you need an additional 35mg of vitamin C EVERY DAY to combat the effects of the weed.

I thought you'd like to see some of the other vitamin and mineral depleters that many of us come in contact with every day.

NEXT WEEK: PART TWO
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 23, 2000
Words:590
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