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Diet, Exercise Better Than Vitamins in Promoting Health

Exercise and a well-balanced diet far outweigh any health advantage from vitamin supplements. Writing in the November issue of the Harvard University Men's Health Watch, Harvard Professor Harvey Simon argues against taking pills or powders to promote better health. "There have been careful studies done of many of these supplements, particularly of the antioxidant vitamins and B vitamins which have shown no benefit."

While it was once hoped that supplements of folic acid could help reduce colon cancer, new research has shown that taking more than the minimum daily requirement would be harmful. Simon says other studies underscore the downside to dietary supplements, which are unregulated in the United States. "The most striking example is beta carotene which we used to be very hopeful about, but actually increases the risk of lung cancer in smokers. Vitamin E increases the risk of second head-neck cancers in people who have been successfully treated for a first malignancy."

Simon says that in the quest for a shortcut to better health, the natural function of the body is too often overlooked. Regular exercise can reduce the incidence of breast cancer by 20-30 percent and colon cancer in women by 30-40 percent. Simon notes that the risk of heart disease also dramatically declines with exercise. "There are hundreds of studies that show that people who exercise regularly reduce their risk of coronary artery disease by about 40 percent, (and) also reduce the risk of stroke, hypertension and diabetes."

Simon recommends cutting all vitamin supplements except for Vitamin D. While it is made by the body when exposed to the sun, he says too much sun exposure can be dangerous because of the risk of potentially deadly skin cancers.