DEAR DR. BLONZ: A recent magazine article suggested that daily vitamins aren't necessary for adults over 65. Do you agree? -- T.G.
DEAR T.G.: I don't see it that way, but let me share the backstory. I do not favor using daily vitamins as an excuse for not making efforts toward a healthful diet and lifestyle. And it is incorrect to think that getting all of the "essentials" in a pill will cover all the nutritional bases. Vitamins can supplement healthful eating, especially when you need certain essential nutrients not typically present at recommended levels in your foods.
History is instructive here. Essential nutrients were discovered when things went wrong in experiments where all known essentials were thought to have been provided. Subsequent reviews discovered that one or more missing substances were responsible for the results, which were then studied and eventually added to the list of essentials. The different vitamin letters and numbers show that this has been an ongoing process -- and we are not done yet. (Check b.link/67v67w for a story of vitamin history.)
Next, consider that most discoveries were made when short-term studies found unexpected outcomes. We seem to have done well with substances where deficiencies give rise to immediate effects, but what about those needed to impact long-term outcomes for aging and chronic disease? My advice is to look to nature, where the successful evolution of plants serves as an object lesson. With plant-based, whole-food eating, we get "known" essentials packed with partner substances to complement their action. (My prediction is that those partner substances will be where future essentials will be discovered.)
Nutrients work with teams of substances in complex biochemical reactions. Similar to how exceptional talent is valued in an orchestra, sports team or business, the entire ensemble is needed to succeed -- the system is only as strong as its weakest link.
Whole foods evolved by making teams of interacting protective substances to protect the plant and facilitate its ability to produce its next generation. When such foods are at the core of our eating plan, we import these benefits into our bodies. Evidence can't say the same thing regarding poor eating habits. For example, vitamin C -- ascorbic acid -- is a powerful antioxidant and free-radical scavenger. It works well when part of a whole food, such as citrus, where it comes with other nutrients, dietary fiber and a support staff of "co-worker" antioxidants to help. If you add a bunch of vitamin C to junk-food eating, it will still do its dance. But without any support staff, the vitamin C -- particularly if taken in excessive amounts -- can become a pro-oxidant and cause the very damage that it was taken to prevent.
Back to your straightforward question: Plant-based whole-food eating must be primary; a multivitamin can supplement such a diet. If healthful eating is on the scene, I have no problems with their use.
Read more about vitamins at b.link/zhf8g6. You can also check out Consumerlab.com, a subscription site that tests and reviews various multivitamins and supplements.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.