Healthy Pill Poppers

Eating healthy and maintaining a balanced nutritional diet has always been a struggle for college students. To bridge the gap created by this unbalance, many people take multivitamins and multiminerals, which are considered to be, America’s most popular dietary supplements.

The problem is that there are no established standards or regulations on these over-the-counter drugs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to require product labeling to include any new information in the “Percent Daily Value” (PDV) listing. Additionally, current PDVs are largely based on nutritional recommendations dating back to 1968. Neither the U.S. government nor any agency is responsible for routinely testing these dietary supplements for their quality or contents.

Consequently, many products failed to meet their own claims. ConsumerLab.com conducted tests and found that about one-third of the multivitamins selected for testing were short on ingredients, failed to dissolve properly, or were contaminated with heavy metals such as lead.

Furthermore, in the 29 products for adults and children that ConsumerLab.com selected, eight failed to meet their claims and other quality standards.

12 contained levels that could be too high for healthy individuals.

Because people’s diets and needs differ depending on age, gender, health status and use of substances, overdosing is a potential threat.

“Each body is different with different needs. We need to tailor what we are taking in to those specific needs,” said Mahtab Jafari, Director of the UCI Pharmaceutical Sciences Undergraduate Program and Assistant Professor in the College of Health Sciences.

For others, the concern is not proper distribution or quality, but rather a more negative side effect unknown to most.

Last Spring, the “Archives of Internal Medicine” published a study in which more than 160,000 post-menopausal women took “all-in-one” pills failed to uphold its claim to prevent cancer, heart attacks or strokes.

Antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, and E, selenium, beta carotene and folate are supposed to fight free radicals, unstable compounds thought to damage cells and contribute to aging.

However, “The Journal of the American Medical Association” published a study that questioned the effectiveness of antioxidant supplements in its ability to protect against heart disease, stroke or cancer.

Doctors at prominent research institutions have proposed that taking certain kinds of antioxidant pills can actually feed latent cancers and reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy.

Some scientists are beginning to suspect that the body may actually need free radicals to help kill cancer cells, regulate blood sugar and ensure optimal function in the immune system.

Meeka Craig, a first-year undeclared major at UCI, admits that she takes several supplements on a daily basis, such as Emergen-C drink mix, which contains 1000 mg of vitamin C and antioxidants, Nature-Made Multivitamins and Omega 3-6-9 pills.

“I try not to rely too much on my supplements, though I do feel that it doesn’t hurt,” Craig said, who started taking these supplements as a result of pressure from her mother and recommendations from friends.

Even the famous Dr. Oz takes multivitamin pills every morning.

“I buy them from big companies, like you should … and I want my regular multivitamin to contain A, B, C, D, and E,” Dr. Oz said in an online video answer to user-submitted questions.

Though it is well known that Omega-3, fish oil and calcium are vital to our health, what Professor Jafari is concerned about is the amount of each vitamin individuals need.

“We need to make educated choices and review the facts before we decide what to take because not all products are authentic, and drugs can interact with each when taken together,” Jafari said. “The best policy, however, is to have a good diet.”

She also advises calling up a company and asking about quality control.

What students need to know is that proper research can go a long way in discerning the correct dosage and ratio of vitamin intake. The priority should not be popping the right pills, but rather to monitor a healthy, balanced nutritional diet instead.