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Tip of the Week: The ABCs of Vitamin and Mineral Supplementation

Vitamins and minerals are substances your body needs in small but steady amounts for normal growth, function and health. Together, vitamins and minerals are called micronutrients. Your body can't make most micronutrients, so you have to get them from the foods you eat or, in some cases, from supplements. Vitamins are needed for a variety of biologic processes, including growth, digestion, mental alertness, and resistance to infection. They also allow your body to use carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

Whole foods are your best sources of vitamins and minerals. They contain a variety of the micronutrients your body needs, ­ not just one. An orange, for example, provides vitamin C and also beta carotene, calcium and other nutrients. A vitamin C supplement lacks these other micronutrients. Whole foods also have dietary fiber, which is important for digestion and can help prevent cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Adequate fiber intake can also help prevent constipation.

Vitamin and mineral supplements can't copy all of the nutrients and benefits of whole foods, but they can complement your diet. If you have trouble getting enough nutrients, you might benefit from taking a vitamin or mineral supplement. To use supplements safely, learn about your nutritional needs and understand how to choose and use dietary supplements safely.

If you do decide to take a vitamin or mineral supplement, check the supplement label. Product labels can tell you what the active ingredient or ingredients are, which nutrients are included, the serving size and the amount of nutrients in each serving. The label also provides directions for safe use and tips for storage. Avoid supplements that provide "megadoses." In general, choose a multivitamin-mineral supplement that provides about 100 percent daily value of all the vitamins and minerals. Most cases of nutrient toxicity stem from high-dose supplements. Play it safe. Before taking anything other than a standard multivitamin-mineral supplement of 100% daily value or less, check with your doctor, pharmacist or a registered dietitian. High doses of some vitamins or minerals may cause health problems.

Question: I've never really had a regular period (since school has started, I've had it three times, and it's been five months). Recently I had intercourse for the first time with my boyfriend, and three days later I thought I had my period, but it only lasted for two hours at best. All through the week there has been a little bleeding in the morning and nothing much else. I haven't had a gyno exam and I'm not on the pill. What should I do?

Answer: The best thing to do is to make an appointment at Health Services and speak to a clinician about this concern. It would be best to have an examination and a pap smear now that you are sexually active. You may also want to consider/discuss birth control options.

Question: Does the Health & Counseling center provide condoms for students?

Answer: Yes, free condoms are available in the Self-Care Center, first floor Lauderdale.

(This column is courtesy of the Lauderdale Center. YAWA is an anonymous, online service on the Health & Counseling Web Site: