June 16, 2009 -- One-third of Americans take some kind of vitamin, but the information available about supplements can be contradictory and confusing. Medical contributor Dr. Marie Savard joined "GMA" to explain what men and women should be taking every day, what they should avoid, and why.
According to Savard, everyone, regardless of age or gender, should start their day with a multivitamin. There are many multivitamins to choose from, but Savard recommends taking a well-known brand such as Centrum or Theragram. She also advises that only one pill be taken per day because a bottle that instructs several doses per day indicates something is wrong.
After the multivitamin, the nutritional needs of men and women differ and certain vitamins can address the specific needs of both groups. Savard recommended several brands to meet the requirements of women, men, seniors and vegetarians.
Supplements Women Really Need
For women, Savard suggests a tailored multivitamin that provides iron, which helps during menstruation, folic acid in case of pregnancy, calcium, Vitamin D, and a host of other vitamins and minerals that are no longer in our over-processed, over-farmed food supply.
But even when a multivitamin contains calcium, Savard suggests women get extra from an alternate source. Women need 1,000-1,200 mg of the bone-fortifying mineral each day and the average American diet only provides half that amount. Calcium carbonate brands like Tums and Viactiv are inexpensive and can be delicious when packaged with caramel chews, but Savard warns women tempted to overdose that too much calcium can lead to kidney stones.
Savard notes that American women need to increase their intake of Vitamin D, which allows calcium to be absorbed. Most experts think we should get up to 1,000 or even 2,000 IU daily, but a multivitamin only provides 400 IU and there is only 100 IU in a cup of fortified milk. Vitamin D doesn't come naturally in foods, although it can be provided by the sun. But sun block, winter months, aging skin and kidney disease all reduce the amount of Vitamin D produced.
Finally, according to Savard, women should take about two capsules of fish oil containing Omega 3s. They protect against inflammation, which is at the heart of many chronic diseases, including heart disease and stroke, Omega 3 fatty acids are also a major component of our brain and nervous tissue and can be important for developing fetuses.
Pregnant women need some specific supplements, including a prenatal vitamin that contains extra folic acid and iron.
Multivitamins for Men
For men, Savard says that taking a multivitamin without iron like Centrum Silver is important because men recycle their iron from blood cells and don't need extra. Additional iron can mask underlying bleeding conditions such as colon polyps or cancer.
Although men start out with a higher bone mass density, thanks to testosterone, and don't experience the same bone loss as women, they still can suffer bone loss as they age and should supplement with calcium.
Vitamin D is also important for calcium absorption for men. Low amounts of it have been linked to heart disease, overall mortality, autoimmune disease, Alzheimer's and even some cancers.
The omega 3s again act as an anti-inflammatory, and help lower blood fat, and triglyceride levels as well as risk of heart disease.
Men age 35 and over should also take a daily baby aspirin to prevent heart attack.
Supplements for Seniors
Savard says that seniors of both genders often have diets poor in Vitamin B12, folic acid, Vitamin D and calcium, so they definitely need to take supplements. Depending on their specific health situation, a doctor can recommend how much extra B12 and folic acid they should be taking.
Seniors who are worried about eye health should know that the supplement lutein is present in multivitamins, in the exact recommended dose. According to Savard, anyone who says you should be taking it in addition to your multivitamin is probably part of a marketing campaign.
Vitamins for Vegetarians
Strict vegetarians may need extra B12 and folic acid supplements as well. B12 is present in eggs and dairy, so vegans should get this nutrient from supplements.