Professional wrestler Hulk Hogan made a slogan of his advice for young fans: “Train, say your prayers, take your vitamins.” Hogan was not specific in terms of dosage for any of his recommendations, but at least in the case of vitamins it could matter. We asked nutritionists from some of Boston’s leading dietary research centers to help us pin down the facts about supplements. Take the quiz and test your vitamin knowledge.
Can vitamin C ward off a cold?
Not really, our experts agreed. But “some evidence has shown that it can shorten the duration of the cold,” said Lauren E. Decker, a registered dietitian at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. “Basically, you will get the same amount of colds, but they may not be as severe.”
A shortage of vitamin D has been linked to depression and diabetes. True or false?
True-ish. While vitamin D deficiency has been linked to depression and diabetes, causality has not been proven in either case. “Is it low vitamin D that causes depression, or are you low in vitamin D because you are depressed? The jury is still out,” said Decker. People in New England are especially susceptible to vitamin D deficiency, experts say, because of inadequate exposure to sunlight, which is a major source.
Children need vitamins more than adults. True or false?
There is no simple answer to this question, say the experts. Growing boys need a higher daily allowance of thiamin (B1), niacin (B3), B6, calcium, phosphorus, and iron than adult men, according to Dr. Caroline Apovian, director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at Boston Medical Center, while girls need more niacin, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium than adult women. Yet people of all ages need vitamins, said Alicia Romano, registered dietitian at the Frances Stern Nutrition Center at Tufts Medical Center: “Children just have different requirements.”
If you don’t like vegetables, you can get all your vitamins from supplements. True or false?
False. “Vitamins may help increase a specific nutrient intake,” said Decker, “but the functional and synergistic quality of food trumps supplementation any day. Vegetables have fiber, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties that cannot be matched in supplements.”
Are there any vitamins that can help you avoid age-related vision loss?
“None that can help avoid vision loss,” said Linda Antinoro, a nutritionist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “But there may be some that can help stem the progression. Vitamins C, E, B6 and B12 have all been theorized to be helpful.” Romano added that research with lycopene, a phytochemical found in tomatoes, has been associated with slowing macular degeneration.
Can taking multivitamin supplements help prevent heart disease?
No, say the experts. “Diet, exercise, and a healthy weight are still the most powerful resource in preventing heart disease,” said Decker. If you “are taking a multivitamin, it should be in combination with a plant-based diet and adequate physical activity.”
Will vitamin B12 give you more energy?
Not unless you’re actually B12-deficient. B12 is essential in keeping blood and nerve cells healthy, the experts say, but for those with adequate levels of B12, it’s readily found in foods including chicken, dairy, eggs, and fortified cereals. B12 supplements, said Decker, are “not a magic elixir.”
Do multivitamins ever go bad?
Not immediately upon the expiration date, nutritionists say. “The expiration date has more to do with potency. Vitamins break down, [but] they will not hurt you if you take them” after the best-used-by date, said Apovian.
Which vitamins and minerals are necessary for building strong bones?
Vitamins C, D, and K, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, according to the experts. Studies show that vitamin C may benefit bone mineral density, said Apovian, while vitamin D promotes bone growth and “remodeling.” Vitamin K can protect against fractures and help prevent post-menopausal bone loss, she said.
Can vitamin K help stave off Alzheimer’s?
Maybe, but as yet unproven. “There has been some research on vitamin K and brain function, and one hypothesis proposed that vitamin K deficiency may contribute to the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s,” said Romano. Decker notes that most multivitamins have little or no vitamin K: “Make sure to include vitamin K foods like Brussels sprouts, kale, and olive oil in your diet.”
You can take as many multivitamins as you’d like without harm. True or false?
False. “Multivitamins contain appropriate amounts of vitamins and minerals and are dosed to meet your needs when paired with a healthy diet,” said Decker. “Taking more of them is not helpful, and in some cases, it may be dangerous. Most vitamins are water-soluble, meaning they are excreted by your urinary tract when taken in excess. Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) are stored in our fat tissue, and excess intake can lead to toxic buildup.”