Chuck, vitamins, vitamins everywhere! Big ones, small ones and packages of both line every checkout counter. I’m totally confused about what to take and how much. What do you think? – Robert J., Phoenix

It’s difficult to wade through the muck, mire and marketing of the vitamin and supplement industries. Today, according to the Food and Drug Administration, there are more than 29,000 different nutritional supplements on the market.

And the debates on which vitamins and supplements to take and what dosages to take continue. On Nov. 30, the Institute of Medicine released a report that makes the audacious claim that few people are vitamin D-deficient – a troubling conclusion coming into the heavy part of flu season, when people need more vitamin D. The Alliance for Natural Health implores us not to swallow the IOM’s pill (report), but to continue to accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that one-third of Americans are vitamin D-deficient.

In 2002, the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association shocked the medical world by publishing a study that recommended all adults take a multivitamin supplement for the purpose of helping to prevent chronic diseases. The recommendation was so shocking because for years, medical experts continually had reported that we could get all the vitamins and minerals we need from the food we consume.

But because of contaminants, additives and overused soil, our foods have been depleted of their nutrients.

You’ve heard it said that “God made dirt, and dirt won’t hurt.” Well, it can now, especially when it’s been stripped of its nutrients from excessive use and tampering. Our fruits and vegetables might shine more in the markets, but they offer less to your body in terms of nourishment.

It is estimated that we only can acquire 50-70 percent of the nutrients our bodies need by eating well. But most Americans don’t eat well, so they don’t even acquire those low percentages. That is why Dr. Don Colbert and most health practitioners I respect believe that most Americans are deficient of vitamins and minerals, including the basic vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K and magnesium, calcium, fiber and potassium.

You need supplemental vitamins and minerals, but before you purchase and take them, discuss your body’s requirements with your health practitioner. Excessive dosages can be detrimental to your health and often are marketed in those giant package amounts, even at the best of nutritional stores.

The University of California-Berkeley Wellness Letter highlights three typical myths and warnings when it comes to nutritional supplements:

  • Myth No. 1: “Dietary supplements are far safer than prescription drugs because they are ‘natural.'”
  • Myth No. 2: “Dietary supplements are rigorously tested, and their effectiveness backed by all sorts of studies and scientific proof.”
  • Myth No. 3: “Supplement makers are knights on white horses riding to our rescue, while the pharmaceutical industry is ‘evil.'”

We must remember that we can’t live off pills or even nutritional supplements. They are, after all, supplements. We still must eat right.

So before adding supplements to your diet, first build the foundation of a healthy diet of “living foods,” including organic fruits and vegetables from good soil and from what Colbert calls the phytonutrient rainbow (red, yellow, orange, green and purple, e.g., grapes, blueberries and eggplant).

Also, consult your physician or health professional about the proper dietary reference intakes of vitamins and minerals for your age and gender. You and your physician (not those marketing certain products) should monitor your intake of supplements. Because you can overtake some, I recommend you at least consult a reputable guide to supplements, such as Berkeley’s “Wellness Guide to Dietary Supplements.”

Then – and only then – obtain and take quality and natural supplements, time-released and only compiling the most organic of ingredients.

Of course, feel free to consult your local nutrition or health store. Just remember when you do what Hall-of-Fame baseball legend Early Wynn used to say: “I don’t like losing a ballgame any more than a salesman likes losing a sale.”

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