Most doctors hold the view that we can get all the vitamins we need from vegetables, so pooh-poohing the notion of taking supplements. Perhaps influenced as much by Popeye as science, they reckoned that eating spinach would make us all fit and strong
But new research shows that our bodies are unable to build up stores of vitamin A just by eating leafy vegetables, such as spinach. Those who take it in supplement form fare better.
Researchers from the Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands compared the dietary intake of three groups of anemic, breastfeeding women from West Java, Indonesia. One group was given extra portions of vegetables, another was given wafers containing similar levels of vitamins, and a third was given non-enriched wafers.
The only group that showed any significant improvement in vitamin A levels was the one given the supplemented wafer; similarly, researchers found that beta-carotene is also poorly absorbed when taken in vegetables, whereas the enriched wafer group again showed improved levels.
But the researchers say their research doesn't mean people should eat fewer vegetables. Vegetables provide other important nutrients, too. But those still intent on building up vitamin A levels purely through diet might look instead to eating more eggs, whole fish and liver (The Lancet, July 8, 1995).
Elderly people, usually deficient in vitamins, can be helped by supplementation. Researchers from the University Witten-Heddecke, in Velbert, Germany, found that an injection containing 1 mg of vitamin B12, 1.1 mg folate and 5 mg of vitamin B6, given eight times over three weeks, helped restore metabolic levels to normal within a few days of the treatment starting (The Lancet, July 8, 1995).