Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Supplements 2: The Dr. Weil Vitamin Advisor

Does a pregnant, white, 20-year old woman living in Miami have the same nutritional needs as a 35-year-old, Asiatic, male athlete living in Seattle? Does either of them have the same requirements as a black, 70-year-old doctor living in rural Ohio? Probably not, and yet the RDA’s and DV’s on the labels of vitamin bottles suggest that the same vitamin will work just as well for any of us. In fact, the vitamin story is a complicated one and getting more so all the time. Age, gender, health, ethnic background, type of work, and living environment are just a few of the factors that can come into play. According to the web site of the Harvard School of Public Health, people who spend most of their time indoors, use sunscreen, live in a northern latitude, have darker skin tones, are older, or have excess body fat have a greater likelihood of being deficient in vitamin D. Recent research has linked low vitamin D levels with cancer, heart disease, depression, and other illnesses.  The new field of nutritional genomics is likely to introduce additional variables that affect each individual’s response to various foods.

What we really need is an analytical tool, like a decision tree, to help us to sort out all these factors. The Dr. Weil Vitamin Advisor, which I discovered today, is a major step in the right direction. You enter your personal information, complete a survey that includes lifestyle questions, gender concerns, family history, and medical history. The web site then lists “areas of concern based on your answers” and provides a list of supplements corresponding to those concerns. You can then purchase vitamin packets from the web site; most of the ones recommended for me I am already taking so I did not place an order.  I am assuming that the Vitamin Advisor is a work in progress; there was no place for me to indicate that I was hypothyroid. Two of the supplements recommended by the site, acetyl l-carnitine and alpha lipoic acid, are said by some to affect thyroid function so I have avoided them in the past and will continue to do so. But this is a minor point.  The Vitamin Advisor is a valuable resource for people seeking individualized guidance about what vitamins to take.

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