Three years ago this month I wrote you on this same topic. Do you remember? Why again? I want you to remember to importance of vitamins in the light of new information. Growing evidence suggests that a deficiency in the so-called antioxidant vitamins, i.e., vitamins A, C, and E, and antioxidant minerals such as selenium and zinc are associated with a risk of many cancers, heart attacks, and emphysema, amongst the more serious diseases of our time. In emphysema it is a fact that oxidants released from tissues by the air we breathe or while breathing oxygen, may release excessive amounts of toxic oxygen molecules, which damage alveoli and airways. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that increasing the intake of the antioxidant vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamins C and E, cannot only reverse the oxidant excess but can actually result in a slight but significant improvement in lung function.
Very high levels of vitamin E are believed to retard memory loss suggesting a beneficial effect upon brain function. High hopes of preventing Alzheimer’s disease with large doses of vitamin E have recently surfaced. Antioxidant vitamins may also retard the progress of eye deterioration including macular degeneration and cataract formation. Indeed, oxidants are believed to play a major role in the aging process. Thus, why not take antioxidant vitamins and minerals on a regular basis? The scientific answer to this question remains that we still lack enough solid clinical trials of vitamins done in the context of a careful recording of dietary patterns in order to prove the health care benefit from the antioxidant vitamins and minerals. However, other evidence suggests that these vitamins are quite safe, even if given in large dosage. Thus, it makes sense to me, at least, to prescribe a broad-spectrum multiple vitamin to all my patients, as well as extra supplements in vitamin C and E, along with selenium and zinc as a minimum. We can’t wait until all the evidence is in to know whether vitamin supplementation can be equated to health care benefit.
So my advice is remember to take your vitamins and, if you do, you probably will be protecting many major organ systems’ functions, including your brain. Just remembering to take your vitamins may also help you to remember.
Thomas Petty, MD