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Vitamins, minerals, and herbals are a big part of nearly everyone's life, as Americans spend billions of dollars on these products every year. Supplements continue to be a hot news topic; practically every day we read or hear about a new cancer cure, a miracle diet, a new approach to maintaining or improving health, or an amazing new vitamin, mineral, or herbal combination that will provide special benefits. What are these miracle remedies that are the source of eternal youth, beauty, and sexual prowess, these cures for the diseases that plague and endanger our lives? Do they really help?
Experts agree that vitamins and minerals are needed for everyday functions of the human body as well as to prevent deficiency conditions that occur when they are not present in the diet. But when you venture beyond the scientifically proven uses for vitamins and minerals, you enter a world of controversy and disagreement about how much of each vitamin and mineral you should take every day, what benefits these supplements can be expected to provide, and how to get these nutrients into your body. Some experts believe that you can, and should, get all the nutrition you need by eating a sensible balanced diet. Others feel that our calorie-counting, fast-paced lifestyles make it virtually impossible to eat enough of the right foods. Still others believe that doses of vitamins and minerals higher than the daily recommended amount can provide specific medical benefits, while others counter that there is no merit to the notion of treating disease with mega-doses of nutrients. Yet others see the mounting evidence for vitamin C, vitamin E, calcium, zinc, and other nutrients as the tip of a "nutriceutical" iceberg. The problem is, they say, we don't know enough about the important role played by these nutrients and how they can help us.
And the controversy continues to mount if you consider herbals, which, unlike vitamins, are not necessary for basic body function. Herbs have long been used as the sole source of medicine in many cultures, uses that pre-date the development of modern medicine. Millions of people around the world use herbs to supplement or replace "modern" medicines. How do they work? How do we know they work? How have the most popular herbals earned their reputations? Have modern herbal products been subjected to the same level of scrutiny and research as modern medicines? Are all herbal products the same? How can you know which herbal product to buy? Even though we now know more about herbal supplements than ever before, few of the products you can buy today could meet stringent federal criteria for approval as a drug product.
So how can you decide which vitamins, minerals, and herbals are right for you? Unfortunately, there are still few places for you to go for straightforward and scientifically based answers to the questions we most want answered about vitamins, minerals, and herbals. Most consumer-oriented books on the subject are written by vitamin or herbal advocates who hard-sell their product or program. These works are often based on scanty data and anecdotal evidence and may offer nonscientific advice on how to select the vitamins, minerals, and herbals you need to maintain your health.
Information in The Vitamin Book, however, comes from hundreds of scientific publications, and this revised and completely updated edition incorporates the most up-to-date research and information available. We have tried to dispel the myths, mysteries, and untruths commonly associated with these products. Here you will learn what vitamins, minerals, and herbals are, where and how they work in your body, when you need them, what they can do for you, how much to take, and how to select a vitamin, mineral, herbal, or combination preparation from the dizzying variety that are available in health food stores, pharmacies, and vitamin shops, as well as on the internet.
We believe that mostbut not allpeople can benefit by taking vitamins and minerals. In general, these supplements are not harmful, except perhaps when large doses are taken to modify the course of a disease. At these doses, vitamins and minerals are not being used as nutrients. They are being used as drugs, with the potential for drug-like side effects. Even in those cases where research has shown that vitamins may be beneficial (vitamin E to prevent heart disease, for example), some experts still feel that more research is needed to establish the true nature of their value. In The Vitamin Book we tell you how to use vitamins and minerals, and our recommendations are based on current knowledge of the safety and effectiveness of larger doses of selected vitamins and minerals.
Future research may show new ways in which vitamins can become an integral part of the prevention and treatment of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and arthritis. Until then, your choice to take large doses of vitamins and minerals should be based on objective information about the benefits and risks of those nutrients, information that you will find in this book.
The same holds true for many herbals, some of which may also prove to be important in treating and preventing certain diseases. Unfortunately, many studies of herbal products do not meet modern scientific standards. Thus, we cannot recommend many herbal products for all of their currently popular uses. Ongoing research, especially research into the active medicinal components of herbs, will provide us with the information needed to develop them into important medicinal agents. Hopefully, this will lead to the creation of a specially regulated new class of medicines based on natural ingredients, as is already the case in many other countries. Until then, consumers will have to spend considerable time and effort to educate themselves on how to find and use quality herb products. We believe that this book will be useful in this effort.
In the final analysis, only you can determine how to make the best use of the information in this book. The information on the pages that follow will help you make reasonable decisions about the vitamins and other dietary supplements you and your family use as part of your plan to achieve and maintain good health.
Harold M. Silverman, Pharm.D.
Joseph A. Romano, Pharm.D.
Gary W. Elmer, Ph.D.