Ask The Nutritionist

Common Questions about Vitamins and Supplements

Presented by the Reader's Digest

Is there anything I can take to help with an enlarged prostate?
The prostate is a small gland about the size and shape of a walnut. At birth, the prostate gland is tiny. When testosterone levels rise during puberty, the prostate grows rapidly, doubling in size by age 20. Growth slows down for the next two decades and the prostate does not usually cause problems for many years. When a man reaches his 40s the prostate goes through a second growth spurt. Half of all men have an enlarged prostate by the time they reach age 60, and by age 85, 90 percent of the male population is affected. Unlike the growth during puberty, when the gland expands uniformly, the enlargement that occurs in the second half of life is concentrated in the portion of the gland adjacent to the urethra. As the gland gets bigger, it interferes with the outflow of urine from the bladder. As a result, the bladder has to work harder to empty the urine, and eventually becomes thicker and prone to excessive contractions. Over time, this extra effort causes the bladder muscle to weaken, and urine cannot be expelled fully. The combination of these problems leads to the discomfort and complications associated with an enlarged prostate. There have been numerous clinical studies that have have shown that 160 mg of saw palmetto fruit (containing 80-90% fatty acids) twice a day or 320mg once a day can significantly improve urinary symptoms such as frequent urination, painful urination, hesitancy, urgency, and perineal heaviness. It is important to note that it takes approximately 1-2 months of daily treatment with saw palmetto before significant improvement of the symptoms occurs.

Is it safe to be taking Puncture Vine on a continuing basis? 
Puncture vine, also known as tribulus terrestris , is a plant which has been used anectdotally for male impotence, as an aphrodisiac and enhancing athletic performance to name only a few uses. To date, there has not been any reliable clinical studies to substantiate these uses. However, no interactions between puncture vine and drugs, foods, laboratory tests, or disease/conditions are expected to occur. Puncture vine contains saponins (a soapy substance found in many different types of plants) which have been reported to be effective in treating angina in people with coronary heart disease. Until more research is available, long term use of puncture vine is not recommended.

Can I take Ginkgo Biloba if I'm taking blood thinners?
Like most herbal products, ginkgo biloba can interact with other medications which you may be taking. Because of its mechanism of action, ginkgo biloba may increase the risk of bleeding if taken with other anticoagulants (blood thinners) and antiplatelet drugs. Some of these drugs include Aspirin, dalteparin (Fragmin), enoxaparin (Lovenox), heparin, indomethacin (Indocin), ticlopidine (Ticlid), warfarin (Coumadin), and others. It is important to be monitored by a doctor if you are contemplating the use of ginkgo biloba while on blood thinners or any other medications. For blood thinning medication specifically, the dose of the prescription drug may need to be altered due to the additional blood thinning action of gingko biloba.

How can I prevent colon cancer?
Colorectal cancer is a malignant tumor of the colon, rectum or both. Together the colon and rectum make up the large intestine. It carries the remains of digested food from the small intestine and eliminates them as waste through the anus. A tumor is the result of abnormal cell growth on the lining of the colon. These tumors begin as small growths (also known as polyps) on the inside of the large bowel. If these growths are not removed they eventually can become cancerous, penetrate through the wall of the colon or rectum and spread to other areas. You may reduce your risk of colorectal cancer by exercising daily, enjoying a low fat diet, limiting the amount of saturated fats in your diet, and increasing the amount of fruits, vegetable and whole grain foods that you eat. Oats, barley and wheat bran specifically have been shown to aid in the prevention of colon cancer. Garlic and milk thistle may decrease the risk as well. In addition, there is some preliminary evidence that shows reduced risk of developing colon cancer in people consuming higher amounts of lutein and black or white pepper in their diet.

Why do people take apple cider vinegar?
Apple cider vinegar is the juice from crush apples which has been fermented over time. Like apple juice, it probably contains some pectin, vitamins B1, B2, and B6, biotin, folic acid, niacin, pantothenic acid, and vitamin C. It also contains small amounts of some minerals such as sodium, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, iron, and magnesium. Anecdotally, apple cider vinegar has been used alone or with honey for weight loss, leg cramps, high blood pressure, and arthritis to name only a few uses. To date there is no scientific evidence to support the use of apple cider vinegar for these purposes. In theory, apple cider vinegar may help with the digestion of food by lowering the pH level in the stomach. For this use, a 285 mg tablet taken with each meal, has been used.

Is there anything I can take to help with my stomach ulcer?
A peptic ulcer is a type of sore or hole that forms in the lining of the stomach or intestine. An ulcer in the mucous lining of the stomach is called a gastric ulcer. One in the upper-most part of the small intestine, or duodenum, is called a duodenal ulcer. The mucous lining forms a protective barrier that keeps powerful stomach acids and pepsin (an enzyme that helps break down proteins) from damaging the very organs that produce them. If there is a break or ulcer in the lining, the underlying tissue is vulnerable to the acid's corrosive effects. If the ulcer is small and mild, there may be little pain and the wound can heal on its own. But if the ulcer is deep and severe, it can cause bleeding, and may eat through the stomach or duodenum wall. Some people with mild disease may have no symptoms at all. The most common complaint is a burning or gnawing pain in the upper abdomen that occurs two to three hours after eating or at night. Honey may serve to be helpful due to its antibacterial and antifungal activity , which might offer benefit in preventing wound infection and Helicobacter pylori infection in peptic ulcer disease. Studies have found that licorice may help accelerate the healing process of gastric ulcers. The pain associated with ulcers may be treated by taking a chewable calcium supplement which works as an antacid while at the same time serving as an excellent source of this important mineral.

What are rose hips?
Rose hips are the fruit of a rose that develop after the petals have fallen. They were used in Britain during World War II to prevent scurvy when there was a shortage of citrus fruit. Since then, rose hips have been used as a source of Vitamin C and in fact, have up to 60 times the Vitamin C of citrus fruit as well as containing the bioflavonoids that aid in the absorption and protection (against oxidative damage) of Vitamin C. Bioflavonoids have also been shown to possess anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anti-tumor properties. Because of these properties, rose hips may help to control allergies, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammation diseases as well as protect the body from viral infections.

I suffer from fibromyalgia. Is there anything I can take that will help?
Fibromyalgia is a syndrome most commonly found in women of childbearing years or older. It is thought that fibromyalgia has more than one cause. Some researchers have suggested that it is related to abnormalities in a person's sleep cycle or low levels of a brain chemical that regulates sleep and pain perception called serotonin. Another theory is that a person suffering from this syndrome is too low in a chemical that is related to muscle strength and muscle repair and/or is too low in a chemical involved in pain perception. Many people with fibromyalgia also suffer from anxiety, depression, or eating disorders. Fibromyalgia can cause pain and stiffness in the muscles and joints almost anywhere in the body, including the neck, back, shoulders, and hips. Pain may be either a general soreness or a gnawing ache, and stiffness is often worst in the morning. Pain is commonly accompanied by a feeling of abnormal tiredness. For reducing pain and tenderness associated with fibromyalgia, a supplement called malic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid typically found in fruit, taken along with magnesium hydroxide and chlorella has shown to be beneficial. Studies have used 800-1200 mg per day of malic acid along with 200-300 mg of magnesium hydroxide twice daily to decrease pain and tenderness in individuals with fibromyalgia. Chorella may also be taken at a dose of 10 grams along with 10mL of liquid if so required. Finally, improved sleep quality may also improve symptoms. Increase the chance of good night sleep by avoiding caffeine, late evening fluid intake, and exercise late in the day. Taking a sleep inducing herb such as valerian, may also be beneficial since valerian has been shown to improve the quality of sleep.

What are the benefits of Cayenne?
Cayenne or Capsicum as it is often called, originally came from French Guyana. It is also native to parts of Asia, Africa, South America and parts of the United States, south of Tennessee. Whether used as a cooking spice, or as a medicinal herb, it is the dried fruit which is used. Orally, cayenne is used to stimulate digestion, as an antiflatulent, to improve peripheral circulation, for reducing blood clotting tendencies, and preventing arteriosclerosis and heart disease. Cayenne aids in digestion by increasing the flow of saliva and stomach secretions. Cayenne works to prevent heart disease by helping increase the circulation of blood and decreasing cholesterol levels. In sensitive people, cayenne may cause gastrointestinal irritation along with sweating and flushing of the head and neck. Taking cayenne with food may help to prevent these uncomfortable side effect. The active ingredient in cayenne fruit is capsaicin. Most people take approximately 500mg of cayenne powder per day.

Is there anything I can take to lessen the pain associated with carpal tunnels?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a disorder characterized by a specific pattern of numbness, tingling, pain or weakness caused by nerve compression in the wrist. Carpal tunnel syndrome affects women more often than men, perhaps because women normally have smaller carpal tunnels. It is thought that repetitive and strenuous work with the hands is linked to this condition. Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome may include burning, tingling or numbness of the fingers, difficulty gripping objects, and problems making a fist. These symptoms may be occastional or constant and usually occur at night in one or both hands. Vitamin B 6 (pyridoxine) deficiency is common in people with carpal tunnel syndrome. Several clinical studies have shown that when people who are low in vitamin B 6 begin to take a vitamin B 6 supplement, there is a significant relief in the symptoms associated with carpal tunnels. The recommended dose is between 50-100 mg per day which can be taken with or without food.

I have been taking 1200mg of lecithin daily for several years. Is this amount harmful?
Lecithin is a phospholipid composed of phosphatides consisting of phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylserine and phosphatidylinositol, and varying amounts of other substances such as fatty acids and carbohydrates. Food sources of lecithin include eggs, liver, nuts, whole wheat, soybeans, and corn. Lecithin is thought to be beneficial since it may help break up cholesterol therefore allowing it to pass through the arteries. By breaking up cholesterol, lecithin may be playing a role in the prevention of atherosclerosis. The typical daily dose for lecithin is 1200 to 2400mg per day. There does not seem to be any concern about taking this dose long term.

Is there any risk with taking feverfew long term?
Feverfew is an herbal product that has been shown to help prevent migraine headaches and decrease the frequency of migraines. Migraine headaches that do occur tend to be less severe and have fewer symptoms of pain, nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and noise. Feverfew has been used safely in studies that lasted up to 4 months. Although no significant adverse effects have been reported with long-term use, there is insufficient information currently available to endorse the use of feverfew over an extended period of time.

How can you prevent acid reflux?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a disorder which results when the stomach's juices flow backwards into the esophagus. These juices cause the lining of the esophagus to become irritated causing various symptoms including heartburn. There are many lifestyle changes that can help prevent acid reflux. Avoiding foods such as coffee, chocolate, citrus, fatty and spicy foods, and eating smaller meals are a few suggestions that may help prevent acid reflux.

What is Yucca?
Yucca is an herb which has been used to treat arthritis, stomach disorders and even diabetes. Yucca's beneficial effects are believed to be due to its anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. Preliminary research also suggests that yucca may help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels and the incidence of migraine headaches.

I find that my skin is cracking at the sides of my mouth. Is there anything that can help?
Using topical remedies such as vitamin E or aloe vera may help with the treatment of skin irritations due to their innate healing properties. Supplementing the diet with a high potency B-Complex, which includes the vitamin riboflavin (B-2), may also be helpful since a common symptom of riboflavin deficiency is cracking at the corners of the mouth.

What can help with restless leg syndrome?
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a movement that leads to uncomfortable sensations in the legs. Although at this point in time the cause is unknown, there may be nutrients that can help with this condition. Studies suggest that iron and folic acid deficiency may play a role in RLS. Supplementation along with the absence of caffeine, alcohol, and smoking may help relieve leg discomfort.

Are there any side effects from taking vitamin E?
Vitamin E has been shown to be very well tolerated for the majority of the population. Rarely vitamin E can cause nausea, intestinal dysfunction or fatigue in sensitive individuals.

Can niacin lower cholesterol?
Studies have found that niacin (but not niacinamide) can reduce total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and at the same time increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels. Many people will experience the niacin flush causing redness to the upper body. This flushing sensation is harmless and should minimize after a few weeks.

Is there anything that can lower homocysteine?
Homocysteine is an amino acid that is formed from the breakdown of protein in the body. It is not found in foods but is a by-product of the breakdown of methionine (an amino acid) to other amino acids. It is well known that with sufficient amounts of nutrients, homocysteine is recycled back to methionine or converted to yet another amino acid required by the body. If homocysteine builds up in the body, it causes damage to the blood vessels. Numerous human clinical studies have been performed on individuals with this condition to determine if supplementation of specific nutrients would decrease serum homocysteine levels. These results indicate that supplementation of folic acid (also known as folate), vitamin B12 (also known as cyanocobalamine) and B6 (also known as pyridoxine) can significantly reduce homocysteine levels and the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Is there anything I can take for acne?
Nutritional supplements that may be helpful include zinc and vitamin A. Both zinc and vitamin A have been shown to reduce the severity of acne. Tea tree oil may also be helpful due to its antibacterial properties.

I'm thinking about having a baby. Other than the Prenatal Supplement, should I consider taking anything else?
The fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) plays a key role in the structural development of the brain. Animal studies have found that those animals who were deficient in the omega 3 fatty acids (such as DHA) developed learning and vision disturbances. This did not occur when the fatty acids were adequately supplied. Due to these types of findings I suggest expecting moms to increase their fish consumption during pregnancy or take a fish oil supplement. This will help ensure that baby gets the fatty acids that are essential for proper development of the brain.

Is there anything that can help with insomnia?
Valerian is a herb that has sedative properties and has been used for centuries for helping with insomnia. Valerian has been shown not only to induce sleep but also to enhance the quality of sleep without the morning "hangover" which is a common side effect of prescription sedatives.

What can help with rosacea?
Rosacea is said to be an inflammatory form of acne. A topical preparation of vitamin A (prescription potency) has been shown to improve rosacea-induced inflammation. Due to its antibacterial properties, applying tea tree oil topically may also help with this condition.

How much iron should I take to treat anemia?
For the treatment of iron deficiency anemia in adults, it is recommended to take 50-100 mg of elemental iron three times daily. For best absorption, take on an empty stomach with a glass of juice.

Can I take too much calcium?
The saying "too much of a good thing" is true in this situation. Yes, you can take too much calcium. The maximum daily intake of calcium (set by the Canadian government) is 1500mg. It has been found that taking an amount exceeding 2400mg of calcium per day can cause renal impairment.

I am allergic to ragweed. Can I still take Echinacea?
Echinacea can cause an allergic reaction in individuals sensitive to the Asteraceae/Compositae family. Members of this family include ragweed as well as daisies, marigolds, and many other herbs.

The doctor says I have elevated blood sugar. Are there any supplements that can help?
Researchers believe that chromium can increase insulin receptor sensitivity hence enhance the uptake of glucose into the cells to maintain normal blood sugar levels. Another product is alpha lipoic acid which has been shown to reduce the risk of complications associated with diabetes as well as improve blood sugar metabolism.

Can a vegetarian get enough protein from a multivitamin?
Multivitamins usually do not contain protein. If by chance you have come across one, more than likely you will not be getting an adequate amount. You may want to consider adding protein powder to you nutritional regimen.

What are the benefits of taking spirulina?
Spirulina is a natural food supplement. Some people like taking food supplements since they feel that they are getting the most natural source possible. Spirulina is a source of dietary protein and iron containing 50% and 29% respectively. Although spirulina has been used for other reasons, we need to have a better understanding of it effectiveness.

What can I take to treat constipation?
Constipation is the result of food not moving quickly enough through the gastrointestinal tract. Adding soluble fiber (found in vegetables and whole grains) to the diet along with adequate water, can help elevated constipation. It is important to drink at least 8 cups of water a day to help prevent constipation.

Can I take more than one supplement at a time?
It is very common to take more than one supplement at a time. The question is which ones? This question is not a simple one since each combination must be treated separately. In general, vitamins and minerals may be taken together but adding herbals must be done with caution since they can interact with medications.

Is there anything I can take to treat anemia?
Anemia is when a person has a low red blood cell count and low hemoglobin in those cells. Since these red blood cells are essential for oxygenating the body, anemia can cause symptoms such as fatigue and poor concentration. Iron deficiency is rarely caused by a low-iron diet alone but is often part of the problem. Including "heme"iron (found in poultry, fish, and other meats) will help to ensure an adequate supply of iron. Taking vitamin A along with an iron supplement has been shown to be more beneficial than taking iron alone. I suggest taking your iron supplement with fruit juice since vitamin C increases the absorption of iron.

What can be taken to help prevent the onset of macular degeneration?
Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in elderly Americans. The disease affects the macula which is responsible for seeing sharp details. To avoid the onset it has been suggested to protect the eyes from sunlight since sunlight triggers oxidative damage to the eye. Lutein is an antioxidant which is naturally occurring in spinach, kale, and collard greens. Lutein in the amount of 6mg per day can decrease the risk of macular degeneration by up to 57%.

What can help prevent gout?
Gout is a type of arthritis which is typically found in the joints (the joint in the big toe is the most commonly affected joint). Uric acid crystals accumulate in the joints and cause sudden pain and inflammation. The most effective way to control gout is through dietary changes. Avoiding foods high in purines such as protein rich foods can help control gout. Also, avoiding refined sugars can help since these sugars can increase uric acid levels. Interestingly enough, adding cherries to your daily diet may be beneficial since there seems to be an unknown active ingredient in cherries that may prevent attacks of gout. Supplements that have been shown to reduce uric acid levels include folic acid (up to 80mg) and vitamin C (4-8g).

What is MSM?
MSM stands for methylsulfonylmethane and is an excellent source of sulfur. Sulfur is essential for promoting good bone health including improved joint mobility and a decrease in the loss of cartilage. MSM also helps to keep your lungs healthy and regulate the immune function. MSM is found in most natural, unprocessed foods. However, once this food is exposed to any degree of processing, the level of bioavailable MSM drastically decreases. With this understanding and the fact that most people consume processed foods varying in amount of processing (pasteurization of milk and cooking and/or drying of grains, and vegetables), it is possible that many individuals may be deficient is this important compound.

Can children take herbs?
Each herb must be looked at separately. In general, I would not advise herbs for children since herbs are typically used for assisting in the treatment of an ailment. Unless you have consulted with your doctor or health care practitioner, I would not advise given “herbals” to children.

Is there anything I can take to prevent cataracts?
During one study, researchers examined the eye records of more than 3,000 residents from the town of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin and found that people taking multivitamins or other supplements containing Vitamins C and E for more than 10 years had a 60% reduction in risk of cataracts. Cataracts are an age-related condition that clouds the lens of the eyes and impairs vision. Researchers believe that antioxidants help combat oxidative stress and may help slow the development of cataracts. This research study confirms previous work suggesting that people who use vitamin supplements have a lower risk of cataracts.

How does the herb Echinacea work?
Echinacea has been shown to stimulate the immune system so that the body can fight infection. Colds and flu can be shortened in length and symptoms may not be as severe when Echinacea is taken at the onset of an illness.

Can garlic and vitamin C help prevent colds and flu?
While there is no cure for colds, there are some supplements that may be helpful in enhancing the immune system and therefore preventing illness. There is a growing body of evidence that garlic significantly enhances the immune system. Studies using garlic demonstrated positive effects on phagocytosis (a process where cells attack foreign bacteria and dispose of it ultimately decreasing the probability of infection). In addition to this enhancement, garlic may decrease the risk of infection since it possesses antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal and antiparasitic properties. Vitamin C is an important nutrient involved in immune responses because it enhances white blood cell function and activity, as well as other immune system functions. This vitamin is therefore helpful in the treatment of asthma, as well as other allergies, the common cold, and infections.

Is there anything that can help prevent the onset of cold sores?
Once a person has been in contact with the herpes virus, the virus lies dormant in nerve roots close to the area that was originally infected. The recurrence of the virus can be stimulated by many triggers including fever, stress, and exposure to the sun. It has been shown that the herpes virus responsible for cold sore outbreaks have a high requirement for the amino acid called arginine. Since foods such as nuts and chocolate are high in arginine, it would be advisable to eliminate these foods from your diet. On the other hand, the amino acid lysine has been shown to prevent the virus from reproducing hence decreasing the risk of reinfection. Unfortunately, you cannot purchase lysine in Canada so you must rely on getting it from foods. Chicken, roasted soybeans and fish such as salmon and halibut are all good sources of lysine. A 100g serving of any of these foods provide approximately 2 g of lysine (1-3 g have been used successfully in clinical trials). Studies have looked at vitamin C and flavonoids (both bilberry or grapeseed are excellent sources) and found that individuals taking 200mg of vitamin C and 200mg of flavonoids 3-5 times per day had a reduction in duration of symptoms by 57%. Garlic may also be helpful in the prevention of a cold sore outbreaks due to its anti-viral properties.

Are there any particular supplements that would be beneficial for people over 50 years of age?
A personalized nutritional program can only be determined once a person is assessed. But in general, we know that individuals over the age of 50 have higher requirements of certain nutrients. For example, as we age we are not able to absorb vitamin B 12 as well. For this reason, it is a good idea to supplement to prevent a deficiency. Another nutrient that might be required is a Calcium and vitamin D supplement. Many seniors tend to drink less milk and may have less exposure to sunlight (required for the production of vitamin D internally) when compared to younger people. I would suggest taking a calcium supplement derived from calcium citrate since this form has a better absorption rate and is nonconstipating. Keep in mind that even though the thirst sensation decreases with age, it is important to drink 8 cups of water daily to prevent dehydration and constipation. There may be other nutrients required but again this will depend on the individuals specific needs.

What is Evening Primrose Oil?
Evening Primrose oil (EPO) is the oil that comes from the seed of the evening primrose plant. This oil is an excellent source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). GLA has been shown to indirectly prevent inflammation (therefore beneficial for rheumatoid arthritis) and act as a blood thinner. In preliminary research GLA was found to have anticancer activity and to lower cholesterol levels. It has also been shown to be effective in treating PMS (especially breast pain) and eczema.

I've heard a lot about Flax. Can you tell me why people use it?
Flax is a seed that is high is an essential fatty acid call alpha-linolenic acid (LNA). Studies confirm that LNA if taken long term, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). One study in particular found that a 1% increase in dietary LNA reduced the risk of CHD by 50%. Studies have also shown that increasing daily consumption of LNA reduces levels of fatty acids responsible for the inflammation response. Animal studies found that dietary flax seed and flax oil had favorable affects on blood pressure and plasma lipids.

This fatty acid is also useful for the treatment of fatigue, obesity, dry skin and other skin problems, impaired immune function, high triglycerides, and PMS.

Flaxseeds and meal have the added benefit of containing lignans, which have been found to have anticancer potential. Lignans are known as phytoestrogens and therefore can also be helpful during menopause. As well, studies have found that flaxseed can increase the amount of bowel movements by 30% and therefore is helpful for people suffering from constipation. If taking flax oil, it is recommended to take 1 teaspoon to 3 tablespoons per day to prevent disease. It taking flax oil to treat an existing disorder, the intake range is 1-5 tablespoons daily.

The recommended intake of flaxseed or meal is 3.5 tbsp. or 50g. However, it is suggested to start with one teaspoon and slowly increase your daily intake.

Should I be concerned about lead content in calcium products?
Many consumers are concerned with calcium products derived from oyster shell or dolomite due to their potentially high lead content. It is important to contact the manufacturer to ask if they do the appropirate heavy metal testing. Many reputable manufactures have product specification that indicate that no calcium products can have over 10 PPM (part per million) of lead, which works out to be 0.005mg per 500mg. 10 PPM is the maximum but results can be below 1 PPM of lead and in this case would be almost undetectable. If you are able to confirm that the appropriate testing is done, then I would recommend these sources since they contain a high percentage of elemental calcium. Taking 2 tablets could provide 100% of the recommended daily intake of Calcium.

When I take a multivitamin, I find that my urine turns a brighter yellow. Is this normal?
Yes, it is normal and actually is a very common outcome of taking a multivitamin. This change in urine color is mainly due to the occurrence of a specific B vitamin called riboflavin also known as vitamin B2. This change in urine color is to be expected with the intake of vitamin B2 and is no cause for alarm.

I think that my spouse may be at risk for heart disease. Can vitamins help?
There are various supplements that have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, but a person's individual risk factors should also be considered before choosing a supplement. For example, if the individual has been diagnosed with high cholesterol, garlic may be a good choice. Studies have shown that garlic may decrease total cholesterol, increase "good" (HDL) cholesterol and decrease "bad" (LDL) cholesterol.

Are vitamin supplements necessary if I eat a well-balanced diet?
A well balanced diet eaten every single day may provide a person with enough nutrients to prevent against diseases linked to nutrient deficiencies such as scurvy, which results from a low vitamin C intake. However, the number of people suffering from these types of diseases in today's society is extremely low. Canadians are at far greater risk of developing conditions such as heart disease. Increasing one's intake of certain nutrients-beyond the level in the average well balanced diet-may help to prevent such serious conditions.

At what age should children begin taking vitamins?
If an infant is being breast-fed, most pediatricians will suggest a vitamin D (or a combination that contains vitamin D and other vitamins) supplement immediately. Many parents continue with liquid supplements until the child can chew (usually around the age of 2). At this point, they can begin taking a multivitamin.

Are vitamins safe for everyone?
Your body requires vitamins daily. Without them you would not survive. The question may be the amount that should be taken every day. In general, it is advised that most people start with a multivitamin and mineral supplement. This amount of additional nutrients will merely "top up" your nutrient levels to compensate for what you may not be getting from your diet. It is suggested to build on to your nutritional regimen if you are at risk for particular conditions or have existing conditions.

Will zinc supplements ward off colds?
Zinc in the form of zinc gluconate has indeed been investigated for its treatment against the common cold. Zinc has also been shown to improve the activity of the immune system. It's been found that people who do not consume adequate amounts of zinc show signs of immune system impairment when compared to people with adequate intakes. An optimal amount of zinc enhances a sluggish immune system and may protect against colds and infections. A daily dose of 50 mg is the most commonly used dose.

Vitamin E is often claimed to be a "super drug." Is there any validity to the claim?
Scientists believe that the many benefits of vitamin E are due to its antioxidant activity and vitamin E's ability to decrease the viscosity (thickening) of blood. It is thought that vitamin E is possibly effective in slowing the decline associated with Alzheimer's disease. It has also been shown to slow down the hardening of arteries and reduce the risk of heart disease. The typical daily dose is 400 IU but this can be increased or decreased depending on whether or not other risk factors are present and on the age of the individual.

Will ginkgo biloba help improve my short-term memory?
Numerous studies have been done using ginkgo biloba to improve short term memory, stabilize or improve cognitive function in Alzheimer's disease, and treat dizziness. Ginkgo affects brain function by stimulating nerve cells and protecting nerve cells from being damaged. In addition, ginkgo leaf extract has been found to increase blood flow in the brain while at the same time decreasing the viscosity (thickness) of the blood. Like most supplements, ginkgo biloba will provide the best results if taken at the very first sign of a health concern.

How effective are multivitamins?
Multivitamins typically contain the vitamins and minerals required by the body to function on a daily basis. A multivitamin is a good starting point for individuals who want to address nutrition and disease prevention through supplementation. To get the most of your multivitamin, it is suggested to take the supplement with either your morning or midday meal. Avoid taking it on an empty stomach since the B vitamins may cause stomach upset.

Do I need to consult a physician before starting a vitamin program?
Absolutely. This becomes even more important for those taking any type of prescription the medication since there may be drug interactions between the supplement and medication. Even if you are not taking medication, it is advisable to inform a physician prior to use to ensure there is no underlying condition that needs conventional treatment. Also, once you begin your nutritional regimen, it is advisable to be monitored by a physician.

My arthritis seems to be worsening. A neighbour told me yucca might help. Is this true?
Yucca has been shown to have excellent anti-inflammatory properties. This means that yucca can help prevent the inflammation of joints which can be quite painful and immobilizing. Yucca has also been shown to lower blood pressure and correct abnormal cholesterol levels when combined with a proper diet and exercise.