More advice on taking vitamins

Thursday, April 1, 2004

Last week I admitted to my profligate ways with vitamins: I never met one I didn't like.

To the rescue came Dr. John La Puma, a nutrition-focused medical doctor. He admonished me to "supplement wisely," not promiscuously.

This week, Dr. John gives me an earful about minerals and water-soluble vitamins.

Like the fat-soluble vitamins we talked about last week, there is a danger of megadosing heavy metal minerals as they can remain in our bodies for a very long time. There are four essential minerals, however, that Dr. La Puma considers important for us as we try to stay vital: calcium, magnesium, selenium and potassium.

La Puma calls calcium a "nutrient all-star." Calcium keeps our bones strong, prevents osteoporosis and arthritis, helps us lose weight, regulates our blood pressure and our mood. Sounds stellar to me.

But taking calcium "wisely" is still important. First off, you need to take 400 IU a day of vitamin D (600 IU if you are over 70) along with your calcium to absorb it correctly. And avoid taking iron or fiber supplements at the same time as your calcium, because they can interfere with absorption. Our bodies can only absorb so much at a time, therefore it is wise to split up the recommended optimal dose of 1,000 mg to 1,500 mg in two or three 500 mg doses.

Magnesium is a valuable mineral that is often deficient in many older folks. Those of us who are trying to stave off the ravages of aging with exercise may be one of those folks as magnesium is lost through perspiration. Without it, according to La Puma, "your energy level flags, your muscles and heart may act 'tired' and your arteries age faster." He suggests an optimal daily dose of 400 mg.

Potassium is important to consider, especially as we age. It has been shown to fight both arterial and cognitive aging. Dr. La Puma strongly recommends that we get this one through food and only supplement under the supervision of a physician. Try to incorporate more of these potassium rich foods into your diet: tomato juice, avocado, cooked beans, salmon, cantaloupe and bananas.

Selenium is a trace mineral that has some promising antioxidant qualities. The recommendation again is to get it from foods, as too much of it can be toxic. If you like your foods flavored with onions and garlic, you are on the right track. Celery, tuna, salmon, wheat bread, brazil nuts and pistachios are all good sources of selenium.

Now for the water-soluble vitamins. Unlike fat-solubles and minerals, these aren't stored in the body and therefore, we aren't in danger of toxic buildup.

We all know by now the benefits of vitamin C and the B vitamins (especially B6, 9 and 12). These are major players in promoting cardiovascular health.

The optimal daily allowance of vitamin C is 1,200 mg and you would be wise to divide this into three doses, spread out over your day. Because it is a water-soluble vitamin, it is more easily flushed out of your system. Secondly, you should take your vitamin C with an E vitamin, another antioxidant that is fat-soluble. According to Dr. La Puma: "The two work together to provide optimal age-reduction."

That's a lot of vitamin information to swallow. But my tutorial from Dr. John has certainly made me wiser. Now let's see if it helps me be a more sensible vitamin popper.

Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh is a Cape Girardeau native who is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 20 years experience helping individuals and couples with their emotional and relationship issues. He has a private practice in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica, Calif. Contact him at

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