October 23, 1995
From Correspondent Elizabeth Schwartz
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Every day, Gloria Goldwasser works out, picks up her son Max at nursery school and then does something controversial: takes a multi-vitamin.
"I take it because I exercise a lot," Goldwasser said. "And I don't know that I eat everything I should to get all my vitamins."
Vitamins -- all sorts -- are controversial because scientific studies have provided contradictory information. And experts further complicate matters by disagreeing on the meaning of the findings. Just what vitamins do women need and not need?
Some groups, like the American Dietetic Association, say multi-vitamins are unnecessary. Dietitians argue people should instead be eating a balanced diet, which would provide all the vitamins and minerals they need.
But Dr. Alise Jones-Bailey, an obstetrician-gynecologist, said she routinely recommends multi-vitamins to her patients. She thinks that most of her patients, like her, are too busy with career and family to eat right.
"This is a high-performance society," said Jones-Bailey. "I have many professional women who travel. They don't eat well, so it's nice to have that balance with a multiple vitamin supplement."
Some brands provide about 100 percent of the U.S. recommended dietary allowance. And health food stores carry vitamins that really pack a wallop, with 200 to 600 to 1,200 times the RDA. But does that make them any better?
Most health professionals will say that the answer, at least for now, is no. Although some studies indicate that extra doses of certain vitamins can help fight some diseases, such as cancer, no one can say for certain yet. Moreover, vitamins aren't necessarily benign.
Jones-Bailey says many people believe that vitamins are harmless because they're "natural," a misconception she calls potentially dangerous. (120K AIFF sound or 120K WAV sound)
Too much vitamin A, D, E, or K can be a problem. Unlike other vitamins, excess amounts are not flushed out of the body. Instead, they are stored in the body's organs.
An overabundance of vitamin A in particular could be dangerous for pregnant women, or for women who might get pregnant soon. A recent study warns that getting more than 10,000 International Units (IU) per day of vitamin A can cause birth defects. It's unlikely that people would get that much vitamin A in their diet -- unless they eat a whole lot of liver. But many supplements pack 10,000 IU's all by themselves.
And finally, the U.S. Public Health Service says that all women of child-bearing age should take a multi-vitamin, or other supplement with 400 micrograms of folic acid to prevent birth defects.
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