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May 2, 2003

Are Americans Getting Too Many Vitamins?

Benjamin Caballero, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Human Nutrition and a professor of international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, explains why Americans should exercise caution when it comes to taking vitamin supplements in an April 29, 2003, article in the New York Times. In the article, Vitamins: More May Be Too Many, by Gina Kolata, Dr. Caballero explains that Americans are more likely to suffer from an excess of nutrients than a deficit.

With some supplements, such as vitamin A, an excess can actually pose a health risk. Several recent studies suggest that high blood vitamin A levels put individuals at greater risk for osteoporosis. In the article, Dr. Caballero explains, "If you have a good source of vitamin A in your food and you take a supplement with another 100 percent, you can easily reach a level that can accumulate to one associated with increased risk of osteoporosis.”

Caballero also points out that other recent studies have shown that vitamins, including vitamin A, beta carotene, vitamin E, and folic acid, did not offer the benefits previously attributed to them and that in some cases even had negative effects.

While some of the other nutrition scientists quoted in the article admit that they do take vitamins despite no clear evidence of a benefit, Dr. Caballero says that he does not. He also stresses that you cannot compensate for a poor diet by popping vitamin pills. “You cannot replace a healthy diet,” he says, “People are looking for a magic bullet. It does not exist.”

Public Affairs Media Contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna Brigham at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu. Photographs of Benjamin Cabellaro are available upon request.
Public Affairs Contact for the Center for Human Nutrition: Kelly Blake at 443-287-5056 or kblake@jhsph.edu