Are You Getting All of Your Vitamins?

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Even if you make an effort to eat many servings of fruits and vegetables each day, you still may not be getting all of the vitamins you need. Modern commercial farming methods have led to soil depletion, which means that fruits and vegetables may not be as nutrient-dense as they used to be. Therefore, it’s important to make sure you are evaluated for possible vitamin deficiencies that can lead to potentially serious health problems.

Vitamin C—Most fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin C, which helps to keep you immune system strong and prevents disease and infection. A vitamin C deficiency can cause fatigue and bruising. Severe deficiencies can lead to scurvy and can even increase your risk for developing certain cancers or cardiovascular disease. The best way to get vitamin C is to eat a variety of organic fruits and vegetables, which are more nutrient-dense than conventional produce. If organic produce is not available, take a daily vitamin C supplement.

Vitamin B12—Found in milk, fish, eggs, and meat, Vitamin B12 helps your body to maintain a healthy nervous system. Elderly individuals, especially those who have undergone gastric ulcer surgery, are at an increased risk for vitamin B12 deficiency. Symptoms of a deficiency—confusion, poor balance, falls, and weakness—can mimic Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, a recent study showed that elderly women suffering from a B12 deficiency were twice as likely to show symptoms of severe depression.

Vitamin D—Exposure to sunlight is a natural way to get vitamin D. Wisconsinites are especially at risk for a vitamin D deficiency because we live in a northern climate where summers are short. Without vitamin D, your body cannot absorb calcium, which is important for healthy bones, teeth, and nerve cells. Young children, the elderly, and individuals who avoid the sun are at an increased risk for vitamin D deficiency. People who suffer from seizure disorders and who are taking anti-seizure medications also are at an increased risk due to the interference of such medications with vitamin D absorption. Symptoms of this deficiency include muscle weakness, bone pain, and frequent bone fractures. Long-term vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis and some forms of cancer. Some good sources of vitamin D include fortified milk, dark-green leafy vegetables (e.g., spinach), eggs, and oily fish such as salmon.

Most of the time, your doctor can detect a vitamin deficiency with a simple blood test. He or she may recommend dietary changes or vitamin supplements. However, because certain medications may interact negatively with some vitamin supplements, be sure to ask your doctor before beginning a supplement regimen.

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Dr. Nancy Reeder is an internal medicine specialist. She is on staff at Columbia St. Mary’s and practices at the Whitefish Bay Clinic. For more information, call 414-332-6430.


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