In excess, vitamins can be troublemakers
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My adult daughter is unable to take vitamins without upsetting her stomach. She has taken them with and without food, and at different times of the day, to no avail. She takes no medicine except for thyroid. She has no gastrointestinal problems. Should I send you a stamped, self-addressed envelope and a fee? — V.H.
ANSWER: Forget the envelope and the fee.
Has your daughter tried different brands of vitamins? The filler in some brands might be the cause of her stomach upset. Fillers are inactive ingredients that keep the tablet together.
The question really is: Does your daughter, or anyone, need to take a vitamin (multivitamin or otherwise) daily? Vitamins are nutrients that the body doesn’t make for itself (except vitamin D). They’re needed in extremely small amounts. The era of beriberi, scurvy and rickets is all but over since the discovery of vitamins. Most doctors have never seen a case of those vitamin deficiency illnesses.
Vitamins don’t pep us up and they don’t prevent heart disease or cancer as was once thought. In excess, they can be troublemakers. In spite of this, we’re conditioned to believe that we need a daily multivitamin. Half of the adult American population swallows one every day.
We can meet all vitamin needs through foods, with the possible exception of vitamin D. A diet that supplies fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and some meat provides the necessary vitamins. Meat is the source for vitamin B-12, but vegetarians can get that vitamin in other ways. Vitamin D is a problem for many. Sunshine converts a substance in the skin into this vitamin. Many people don’t get enough sunshine exposure to achieve skin production of D, and people in northern climates can’t get enough during winter months. All it takes is 15 minutes of sun exposure on the face, arms and legs three times a week. Age is another possible factor in failing to meet vitamin demands if older people subside on a marginal diet of tea and toast.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My husband had a stroke that affected his speech, right arm and right hand. He is only 44. His left carotid artery is 100 percent blocked. He was told that nothing can be done for it. Are arteries in the neck different from those in the heart? Do we need a second opinion? — K.M.
ANSWER: A second opinion is always worthwhile, but you don’t need one for your husband’s carotid blockage. With a 100 percent blockage, your husband’s brain was completely deprived of its nutrition and oxygen in the area supplied by that artery. Nothing can restore the nerve cells that died as a result. Perhaps in the future that will be a different story. For heart arteries, opening of an occluded artery makes a difference if the occlusion has occurred within a time period when there is still viable heart tissue that’s salvageable. Most heart attacks allow for such salvage, and instances of impending heart attacks always do. Your husband apparently had no warning signs of a carotid blockage when the blockage was less than 100 percent.
Your husband’s story is a sad one. I hope that physical therapy will restore his speech and give him good function of his right arm and hand. He must, as must patients with heart artery blockages, watch his cholesterol and his blood pressure so that his right carotid artery stays opened.
The stroke story is told in detail in the booklet on that topic. To obtain a copy, write: Dr. Donohue — No. 902, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.
DEAR DR. DONOHUE: When patients are admitted to a hospital by ambulance and their prescriptions are given to the hospital staff, are they returned to the patients upon discharge? These are expensive medicines. — E.M.
ANSWER: The medicines ought to be given back to the patients upon discharge. If they aren’t, an inquiry should be made. If no answer is forthcoming, take the matter to the hospital administrator.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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