DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a 55-year-old female who has always taken vitamins. I currently take a multivitamin that has 500 mg of vitamin C, 10,000 IU of vitamin A and 400 mg of vitamin E. It also has vitamin D. I have heard and read many reports that say taking vitamins can cause cancer, and that they do not help your health. Are vitamins safe? – B.S.

ANSWER: Our bodies do not make vitamins, except for vitamin D, so we need to get them from outside sources. Foods can provide all the vitamins we need if we eat a balanced diet. Most of us do not eat a balanced diet, and many older people, whose diets are not the best, often come close to developing a vitamin deficiency. A multivitamin is not a bad investment. Vitamins are essential for almost all chemical reactions that take place in body cells. We need them only in minuscule amounts. The huge vitamin tablets that we’re forced to swallow actually contain only tiny quantities of vitamins. Vitamins don’t cause cancer; more than the recommended daily allotment of some vitamins can cause trouble.

The daily allowance for vitamin A is 2,300 IU (700 micrograms) for women and 3,000 IU (900 mcg) for men. Amounts greater than 5,000 IU (1,500 mcg) a day can weaken bones and lead to hip fractures.

Women need 75 mg of vitamin C a day, and men 90. The safe upper limit is 200 mg.

Vitamin D is a vitamin that many older people are nearly or actually deficient in. Sunlight converts a skin substance into the vitamin, but many people never are exposed to sunlight. The recommended daily doses for vitamin D are: adults 50 and younger – 200 IU; 51 to 70 – 400 IU; 70 and older – 600 IU. Some authorities would place the daily dose at 800 to 1,000 IU, especially for older people. The maximum daily limit is set at 2,000 IU.

Vitamin E, once touted as a cure-all, can adversely affect the heart if doses greater than 400 IU (266mg) are taken. The recommended daily dose is 22.5 IU (15 mg).

I recommend that you take a multivitamin that comes closer to the recommended dietary allowances, unless your doctor has specifically told you to take larger amounts.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My neighbor and I have a bet going. She says you inherit drinking, smoking and gambling traits. I say that these are acquired habits. You can inherit heart disease, diabetes and cancer, but if you smoke or drink, it’s because you choose to do so. We await your answer. – M.H.

ANSWER: People inherit many personality traits. I have a grandnephew who lines up his toy cars in a row so straight that the most sensitive instrument on Earth could not detect the slightest deviation in their positions. His father is as compulsively precise. That’s inherited. People do inherit a susceptibility to drink alcohol to excess, gamble unwisely and smoke. The susceptibility is inherited, but the susceptibility doesn’t force them to engage in these practices. The choice to drink, gamble or smoke is a personal one, one that can be resisted if one chooses to do so.

I don’t know who wins the argument. We have free wills. We can choose not to give in to innate desires. I lean toward your position. Is there any money involved in this debate? Do I share in it?

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: An elderly, toothless woman, around 88, tells me over the telephone that she has sprouted new teeth in her upper and lower gums. She says that she can chew foods she could not chew before. Is this possible?

Do you know of other cases where people are enjoying a new set of teeth? I believe your readers would love to know. I would. – L.D.

ANSWER: I’d love to know too. I have to take this one with a couple of grains of salt. I have never heard of people having a third set of teeth. I am positive dentists will let us know if this can happen. Will you send me a picture of the new teeth?

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My new drug provider blocked any more refills of my long-prescribed Lipitor. Instead it will cover Vytorin. I agreed to this action as long as there is no difference between the two. Is there? – P.S.

ANSWER: Lipitor is a statin medicine. The six statin drugs are the most powerful drugs for lowering cholesterol. Which is best provokes great arguments. These drugs turn off the liver’s production of cholesterol. The liver supplies most of the blood level of that substance.

Vytorin contains two drugs. One is the statin drug Zocor. The other is ezetimibe, a drug that blocks cholesterol’s absorption from food. The drug, therefore, has a one-two punch. It should keep your cholesterol well-controlled. You’ll have proof of that in a month or two when your level is checked.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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