It seems like everywhere you look, vitamin supplements are being touted as cure-alls for disease. They are constantly being promoted online, in print, and on the television as being the ideal preventive medicine. It is estimated that one in three Americans take vitamin supplements every day, at a cost of $6.5 billion each year. However, a recent study is now claiming that too much vitamin A, E, and beta-carotene can increase your risk of death — sparking a debate about the safety of antioxidants.
The study, which was just published in JAMA, examined the effect of antioxidant supplements on all-cause mortality in 68 randomized prevention trials. Dr. Goran Bjelakovic and colleagues were able to conclude from the trials that they did not find “convincing evidence that antioxidant supplements have beneficial effects on mortality.” And perhaps more importantly, they reported that beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E seemed to increase the risk of death.
Does this mean that you should no longer take antioxidant supplements? The easiest answer is to talk to your doctor before you decide to start or stop taking antioxidants. The recommended daily allowance of vitamin A is 5,000 IU. You can easily meet this requirement, as well as getting enough beta-carotene, through a healthy diet. The recommended daily allowance for vitamin E is 22 IU. Health professionals agree that if you’re eating a balanced diet, it’s probably not a good idea to take beta-carotene or vitamin A supplements.
If you are taking a multivitamin, there is probably no reason for you to be concerned. The findings of Dr. Bjelakovic’s study apply only to supplements containing high doses of vitamins A, C, E, and beta-carotene. Most multivitamins contain much more modest daily intakes. Check the labels of your supplements and, again, talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.
What is already known conclusively about vitamin A is that it is stored in fat and therefore it can remain in your body for some time. This is different from water-soluble nutrients that can be secreted via your urine if your body detects too much of them. Vitamin A is the most likely vitamin to cause toxicity in your system when you take too much of it.
Vitamin E deficiency is very rare in developed countries. Minor deficiencies can result when your body can’t absorb dietary fat properly. Otherwise, only a very poor diet will make this nutrient absent and require you to boost your intake via supplementation.
The best way to balance these three nutrients in your body is by eating a healthy and varied diet. If you want to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin A in your diet — without taking a supplement — you can try including broccoli, dark green leafy vegetables, orange and yellow vegetables and fruits, cheese, fortified margarine, fortified cereal, or liver in your daily meals.
Get your recommended daily allowance of vitamin E by incorporating the following foods into your diet: whole grains, olives, parsley, salmon, tuna, avocados, seeds and nuts, and leafy greens.
And finally, you’ll find plenty of beta-carotene in colorful fruits and vegetables.