Saturday, January 19, 2008

Vitamin minefield

Experts disagree on whether we need vitamin supplements, and the confusion is driving some people to spend big money on a daily cocktail
Marian Scott, The Ottawa Citizen; Montreal Gazette
Published: Saturday, January 19, 2008
Your eyes glaze at the bewildering display of bottles. From A to zinc, the choice is endless. Should you choose single vitamins and minerals or a multivitamin? Or how about a special formula for stress, fitness, women, men or seniors?

Wouldn't it be great to know exactly which supplements are right for you? That's what laboratories that specialize in "body chemistry balancing" promise. For several hundred dollars, they claim to identify vitamin and mineral deficiencies from a simple blood and urine test.

For David and Cheryl Solomon of Dollard des Ormeaux, Que., nutritional testing takes the guesswork out of the perennial question of whether they're getting the proper vitamins.

Six months ago, the couple and their three sons, ages six to 11, underwent testing by NutriChem, an Ottawa company founded by pharmacist Kent MacLeod that sells personalized nutritional supplements.

"The beauty of it is he'll customize the vitamin for the individual," says David Solomon, 38, who takes 20 capsules a day.

His wife and sons each take between seven and 10 capsules a day of custom-made supplements.

"This is not a jack-of-all-vitamins," says Solomon, an advertising manager for a community newspaper. "Until you get tested, you don't know what's right and what's wrong."

The family spends $1,000 a month on supplements. The initial test cost $600 per person. Most public and private health insurance plans don't cover these expenses.

"In the last few months I've been taking (the supplements), I feel fabulous," says Solomon, who used to suffer from chronic indigestion and also takes prescription medication for his digestive problems. He says the nutritional supplements have helped him digest food better and boosted his energy.

Solomon, who regards the cost of the vitamins as a long-term investment in his health, says MacLeod provides personalized care that is sorely lacking in the health care system.

"It's about get in, get out as fast as possible," he says of mainstream medicine. "We wait until we break down before we take care of something."

"This is the future," says pharmacist MacLeod, who founded NutriChem in 1981 and now provides nutritional testing and supplements to 20,000 families around the world. The company mails out kits for blood and urine samples, which customers return to Ottawa for testing, which in most cases costs about $500.

Many people are vitamin-deficient because of poor diet or problems absorbing nutrients from food, says MacLeod, whose customers range from middle-aged women with depression to professional hockey players. They hear about NutriChem from the Internet, referrals by alternative health practitioners and word of mouth.

"Ninety per cent of the Canadian population is not getting one or more (essential micronutrients)," MacLeod says. "There are people running around with no gas in the tank."

MacLeod got into the nutritional-supplement business 27 years ago by creating vitamin cocktails for children with Down syndrome. He later expanded his practice to include children and adults with conditions from autism to depression, high-performance athletes and people simply seeking optimum health.