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Ask the Doctor: Son Thai Nguyen, M.D.

Q: How do I determine what vitamins are best for me?

A: There is a lot of data available about vitamins due to the fact that the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) regulates dietary supplements under a different set of regulations than those covering "conventional" foods and drug products. It is difficult to sort through the various points of view. With that said, I always recommend that my patients start with a healthy diet to obtain the most nutritional benefits from the food they consume. Vitamins and supplements can also be helpful but it is important to consult your primary care physician to get accurate information to determine what is best for your health care needs.

Some of the most common misconceptions I hear in my practice include:

  • Antioxidants (such as vitamins A, C & E) can help decrease inflammation, which can reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.
    Fact: Based on studies on antioxidants, only CoQ10 has proven to be helpful to decrease inflammation. In fact, in some cases, antioxidants may lead to a higher risk of certain types of cancer. Your physician can best guide you to select what is best for your needs.
  • Vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid can decrease my risk of cancer.
    Fact: While these vitamins can prove to be helpful to overall health (B12 is recommended for vegetarians and folic acid is recommended for pregnant women), there is no evidence to show that it will reduce a person’s risk of cancer.
  • Ginkgo biloba helps prevent dementia.
    Fact: Ginkgo biloba can have many healing qualities, but there is no clinical evidence that concludes that it prevents dementia.
  • Zinc helps eliminate the common cold.
    Fact: While zinc may seem like it helps people get rid of their common cold, it is likely a coincidence as there is no evidence that it can cure a cold.
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin can improve symptoms of arthritis.
    Fact: While some people may see benefits from taking glucosamine and chondroitin to improve their arthritis pain, there is no evidence to suggest that this is actually helpful.

In my practice, I aim to educate my patients about vitamins and supplements and eliminate the misconceptions. Some of the recommendations I commonly provide include:

  • Vitamin D – Take 1,000 units daily to help improve calcium absorption, improve your immune system, decrease risk of heart disease, and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Fish Oil – Studies have proven that fish oil offers protection against heart disease.
  • B3 (Niacin) and Red Yeast Rice – Both of these can help lower your cholesterol level.
  • St. John’s Wort – This herb may reduce symptoms of depression but you should not take this prior to consulting with your physician.

As a reminder, information and education are very powerful and I strongly recommend that you consult your primary care physician before starting any vitamins and supplements.

Son Thai Nguyen, M.D., practices internal medicine at Hoag Medical Group in Huntington Beach. He has been practicing medicine for over 25 years and enjoys helping his patients reach their health goals. He is located at Hoag Health Center Huntington Beach and can be reached at 714-477-8020.