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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ask for a pillow and you're asking for a prostitute


The Jumeirah Carlton Tower is a proper five-star hotel. Its rooms cost up to £5,000 a night and overlook Cadogan Gardens, in the heart of Knightsbridge. They are furnished with big sofas, exotic orchids, half the world’s marble and bathrobes so fluffy, you could survive a 10-storey fall in one.

Down in the lobby, fur-coated women soothe away the strains of a morning’s designer shopping with champagne and cake, while olive-skinned businessmen shake hands on billion-buck deals the way you or I would shake hands on who gets the last croissant.

There is a harpist, a murder of smiling receptionists, a gaggle of sprinting porters and, most important for the purposes of this story, four concierges. Three of them are wearing a gold key brooch on their lapel, signifying membership of the Clefs d’Or, the elite society of the concierge world. One of them isn’t. His badge reads: “Matt - Trainee.” That would be me.

My training has consisted of a brief demonstration of how to read a map upside down and learning the magic, time-buying phrase: “Certainly, sir, I’ll look into that and call you straight back.” I don’t feel prepared.

Looking at the guest register, every person staying here is a sheikh, an ambassador, the CEO of a yacht company or all three. I am not going to be able to cater to their every whim. I have only the most rudimentary knowledge of the restaurant scene in west London, I hold no sway with the guest list at Chinawhite and I can’t tell my Gabbana & Hawkes from my Dolce & Gieves.

At least it’s a Monday, so it’s not that busy. And we’re overstaffed. Richard is the head concierge, and Cyril and Jason are here too. Normally, there would only be two of them, but they’ve got a third in, presumably to make it harder for the pretend concierge to send a sheikh to Burger King or the president of Georgia on the Tube. He is staying here tonight, by the way. The president. I know it’s only Georgia, but it’s still a president, with all the potential for a concierge-related international incident.

Still, this is my big chance to find out what it’s like on the other side of that desk. A concierge is, after all, a special part of a hotel. He’s the Knowledge. The A-Z. The fixer. He knows everything, you know nothing. He can be quite intimidating.

Richard, as it happens, isn’t intimidating at all, but he is quietly all-knowing. He is better connected than the most Gatsbyish of socialite barflies. In his post this morning, he has a note from the manager of a top restaurant, thanking him effusively for dining there last week, along with several new invitations. He and his team are out constantly, building contacts, testing new places, swapping intel with other concierges. It sounds like a big party, but it’s work, says Richard. They all help each other out, particularly if they’re members of the Priory of Sion, sorry, Clefs d’Or. And, as we’ve established, I’m not.

THIS IS HOW the first (quiet) hour goes ... An American man looking thoroughly fed up needs a car, like, now (no problem). A Middle Eastern man looking only slightly less fed up needs to get to the airport, like, yesterday (no problem). A man wants a table for four at Nobu tomorrow night (nearly a problem, but Jason knows the Nobu girl, so we’re fine). The phone rings and a guest is in urgent need of a pencil sharpener. We have a pencil sharpener. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief.

The phone rings again, and it’s an alleged friend of a Middle Eastern princess who is staying in one of the posher suites. Friend demands a limo to bring her back to the hotel. We check with the princess. She’s fine with it. Off goes David the Driver in his S-class Merc. Everyone breathes another sigh of relief.

A disgruntled guest’s shoes arrive from the cobbler and we all look anxious, because, if it’s been done wrong again, we’ll never hear the end of it. The shoes look fine, so we FedEx them to Singapore, where disgruntled guest has now flown.

More sighs of relief are interrupted when the same disgruntled guest calls from Singapore. We tell him his shoes are fixed. He tells us the gentleman’s balding tonic we shipped to his office in Dubai has arrived smashed. Some people are never happy.

All the while, shopping bags are being delivered to the desk by puffed-out delivery boys. First Prada, then a small one from Gucci, then D&G, then Jimmy Choo. The order in which these bags arrive corresponds to the order in which the shops are laid out up Sloane Street. From this, we can deduce that the guest in room 3001 can’t be fagged to carry her own shopping, that she is heading north and that she is burning some serious cash. She’s only got Harvey Nichols to go and that’s a full set. This, apparently, is normal.

So far, I have avoided almost all direct contact with guests. I have smiled at a few, but they haven’t smiled back. They are too important. I have practised my upside-down map-reading and I have pretended to bark orders at a porter down my walkie-talkie, but I have not done any real concierging.

Then comes my chance. The others are all engaged with guests when a perfumed women in a catsuit approaches, holding a large box.

“Morning, madam, how may I help you?” I inquire in my smartest concierge voice, smiling what I imagine to be a winning smile.

“Do you know what I’m going to do with this box?”

I have already upset her.

“No, madam,” looking politely at her box, then nervously at my shoes.

“Well, then,” she replies, and edges away from the desk before vanishing backwards through the revolving door. Richard explains that I have just met Ms Smith. She has issues. Normally, she comes down in her underwear, and has to be marshalled sensitively back to her room.

This seems the right time to broach the subject of a concierge’s limits. I am told they won’t do anything illegal. Drugs are out, as are hookers, though of course they’ve been asked. Just in case you need to know, there’s a coded way to ask for a prostitute. You phone the concierge and say: “Can I have another pillow?” This is embarrassing, because my wife is quite partial to an extra pillow. Which means I’ve often called down and asked for a prostitute to help her sleep. Having said that, they’ve only ever sent a pillow. Which is probably for the best.

Although the concierge doesn’t arrange extra pillows, call girls do find their way into the bar. Only last week, Richard tells me, a cleaner discovered a guest and someone who wasn’t his wife at it in the restaurant toilet.

“How does a five-star hotel handle that sort of thing?” I ask.

“We waited until the couple had finished, then we suggested they might prefer to use a room next time.”

THROUGHOUT the afternoon, I get a glimpse of how the other 0.0000001% live. There are more orders and commands and panics and demands for tricky things immediately. Some guests are inordinately polite, others much less so. I pass one a phone, having connected him to a room, and he flings it back without so much as a cheers.

One fellow on a print-out I’m not supposed to be looking at has a tab of £97,000. He’s had the room for eight full weeks even though he stays only at weekends. The astonishing thing is that he’s pretty much matching the cost of his room with the cost of his phone use. I can see hundreds and thousands of pounds worth of calls. One, an hour to the Middle East, cost £700. That’s £12 a minute. Can’t someone give the man a mobile and a cheap web-based call provider? And post the savings to Africa? Or me? My friend from Georgia has made only one phone call. It was reassuringly brief.

By the end of the day, I did start to wonder, as I stood at my desk, watching rich people rack up huge bills on overpriced drinks and steaks and £125 lifts to the airport (even the Heathrow Express doesn’t cost that much), at the terrible injustice of it all. I didn’t get a single £50 tip for my troubles - tips have dried up since the arrival of that phrase “a discretionary service charge of 12.5% has been snuck onto your bill”. All I got was a phone slung back at me and a woman being sinister about a box.

I think it’s pretty established that money can’t buy happiness. But there’s no need to take it out on the concierge.

The Jumeirah Carlton Tower (020 7235 1234, www.jumeirahcarltontower.com)

It’s amazing what some people will ask a concierge to do

“A GUEST requested a reenactment of the exact conditions on the day he proposed to his girlfriend. A diver was hired, wetsuits were rented, a prop was carefully constructed. On D-day, the guest and his wife were seated at the same waterside table they had occupied 10 years before when, all of a sudden, the husband pointed to the formidable fin of a huge shark crossing the East River. “Look, honey,” he said. “It’s the same shark we saw 10 years ago, when I proposed to you. What an incredible coincidence.” Raphael Pallais, chief concierge, the Plaza, New York

“WHILE WE were docked in Monaco, a guest left her hat in a taxi. She had no idea which taxi she had used. All she knew was that the driver had been listening to a football match on the radio. I contacted the radio station and asked them to make an appeal, in the hope that the driver was still listening. He was - and the hat was returned.” Gabor Szarvas, chief concierge, Crystal Cruises

“A GUEST arrived very sad - his cat had died and he wanted us to find a graveyard. We did this for him. To show his gratitude, he asked us to join him at the funeral. We arranged a limo to take us and the cat there. Sinatra’s My Way played throughout the journey. We were all in tears.” Ali Oner, chief concierge, Ceylan InterContinental, Istanbul

“WITH A day’s notice, one guest requested the use of six red Ferraris to drive to the Billionaire Club, in Porto Cervo. After many calls, I managed to track down five red Ferraris and a grey one, but the guest was so disappointed, he used taxis instead.” Federico Barbarossa, concierge, Hotel Cala di Volpe, Sardinia

Original here

Sticks to Stools: 7 Random Objects Sold as Exercise Machines

Any idiot can build a better mousetrap, but it takes a special kind of individual, a genius if you will, to look at the existing mousetrap and figure out semi-plausible ways in which it could be used as an all-purpose exercise system.

These fitness products seem to be made mostly from random repurposed goods that you probably already have in your basement:

#7.
RED Exerciser

Also Known As:

A stool.

The Pitch:

Experts have been telling us for decades that the secret to achieving good fitness is like the secret to sex: repeat one movement over and over again until you get health benefits or your butt gets sore. The Red Exerciser, as a swivel-stool, is guaranteed to produce at least one of those two outcomes with prolonged use.

Ironically, you could probably burn more calories standing still, but do you really want to risk putting all that strain on your joints? Anticipating the scorn of all you fitness dynamos out there, one reviewer poignantly writes: "you already have the energy. me i dont have it. thank you red." And at this rate you never will have it, brave sir.

Research and Development:

We're thinking a couple of guys on the design team, who've ducked out on a looming deadline to nurse their beers at a local bar. So they're languidly swiveling to and fro upon their stools, until one of them looks up and says, "I've got it!"

#6.
Bender Ball

Also Known As:

A regular ball.

The Pitch:

A recent trend in fitness has been the emphasis on developing core strength. A popular way of doing this is to perform exercise movements while balancing yourself on a ball, which forces various muscles to help stabilize you. The Bender Ball is a tiny version of the bigger ball that you can already find a typical gym, and it apparently gives you ridiculous abs and a sports bra.

Research and Development:

There is nothing funny at all about developing core strength. A woman naming a shitty kid's ball after herself and selling it as a health product? That's pretty ballsy, even for master trainer Leslie Bender.

The Bender Ball sells for $9.99, which is reasonable except that the kid version costs like $2. One concern is that you have to inflate the Bender Ball yourself with a straw. As one reviewer writes, "It hard to get a firm ball." A truer statement, if spoken, would unleash the rapture.

#5.
Super Swim Pro

Also Known As:

A rope.

The Pitch:

These days it's common knowledge that swimming is a safe, low-impact way to achieve all your fitness goals. According to the ad, fully harnessing that power involves tethering yourself to a poolside pole and then flailing meekly against the resistance it provides. As with any exercise program, an important part of staying motivated is feeling like you aren't making any progress at all. If that were true, the Super Swim Pro would be a great piece of equipment.

Yes, that's an official video from the Super Swim Pro people and, yes, we're pretty sure it features a swimmer dying at the 30-second mark.

Research and Development:

Imagine looking out into your backyard. The neighborhood kids are teasing your dog who runs towards them at full speed only to strangle himself once he runs out of rope. Now, look into your heart and consider whether it would occur to you to similarly hobble your loved ones while they are trying to enjoy themselves in a pool.

If you answered no, you are a better person than whoever invented the Super Swim Pro. Forget the "Super" version, the regular Swim Pro was probably just a rope attached to a collar that fits around the neck. We never thought we would say this, but in this case water wings are a good way to preserve your dignity. Apparently everybody agrees since we couldn't find any reviews online.

#4.
Urban Rebounder

Also Known As:

A small trampoline.

The Pitch:

The clip opens with a lady who has an understanding of the word "amazing" that differs greatly from ours. If we were pressed for a one-word description of her stomach, we would probably settle on cottage-cheesy. What she lacks in tone, however, she makes up for in enthusiasm, bouncing 'that thang' up and down on the Urban Rebounder. With this device, you too can achieve porn-star-like endurance, which can be gained via the boundless potential of repeated bounding.

Research and Development:

Trampolines are good fun, and can even help somebody get in shape. Apparently, the word wasn't nearly sexy or edgy enough to be marketable. Now, substitute in the term 'rebounder' and throw in the word 'urban' for some extra edge, and you might have something.

Just add a 'stability bar' and hastily recorded DVD, and you have transformed a trampoline into a tactical training system suitable for people that like to bounce: rap guys and anyone that has ever watched Roadhouse.

Apparently though, the urban intensity is a little too much for some reviewers, "I can't use it more than 5 minutes without my calves and my feet killing me. Don't even have anything in your bladder or you will loose it."

On the whole, the reviews are mixed, and we must concede that some supposedly negative aspects are a tad overblown, like this one reviewer who was concerned about "sharp pains in [the] knees" or the lady who "had problems with 'the girls' bouncing a bit too enthusiastically." That last review captures an idea so impossible that we fail to understand it no matter how many times we read it.

#3.
Side & Glide/Gliding Discs/Fitness Disks

Also Known As:

Frisbees and/or Tupperware lids.

The Pitch:

Maintaining a high level of intensity is always an issue when working out. The Slide & Glide, a pair of plastic discs, gets around that problem by injuring its users should they make the mistake of letting their attention wander for a moment. There is nothing like the very real chance of getting your teeth knocked out to keep you on your toes, and the 'gliding disks' these guys are selling certainly provide that.

These things are so effective, the associated official infomercial (screen captures are shown on the company's website) was deemed superfluous and purged from the internets, forcing us to show you a video featuring an expert Fitness Disk user. For an expert who has produced several such videos, she seems awfully tentative with those things. In terms of entertainment value, the gratuitous cleavage in the video almost made up for her obvious fear of an accidental de-toothening.

Research and Development:

Anyone who has tried to walk on ice, wet bathroom tiles or a floor festooned with banana peels knows that imminent slippage and its concomitant strains are a hell of a workout. An easy way to achieve this effect is to strap something slippery to your appendages and try your best not to fuck up your own shit. But how?

Old margarine or Tupperware lids people. Try strapping some of those to your feet, walk onto some kitchen tile and watch the flab fly. As a reviewer says, using the gliding disks is "like shuffling on giant slippery floor coasters. Not exactly a workout."

#2.
FIRM Fanny Lifter

Also Known As:

A plastic step stool.

The Pitch:

The Fanny Lifter is brought to you by the FIRM, which is either a company that sells fitness products or an evil cadre of murderous lawyers, we aren't too sure. At one point (about 12 seconds), the ad suggests that the FIRM is actually an all-star team of rather soft-looking masters of exercise, or MEILFs for short. If it is used properly, the MIELFs claim that the Fanny Lifter will do just what it says.

Research and Development:

The idea of using steps for exercise is by now cliche (e.g. the 'stepper' fad in the '80s). For their part, the FIRM brings innovative flimsy-looking plastic-stool technology to the table, we believe in an attempt to sell housewives on the idea that the Fanny Lifter will seduce their husbands into finally giving it to them in the can.

That high-quality, fully adjustable and stable stepping equipment is readily available will not deter the FIRM. What is more, the FIRM laughs derisively at the suggestion that stools similar to the Fanny Lifter can be purchased at Wal-Mart for under $10, and that milk crates can be had for free.

#1.
FIRM Sculpting Stick

Also Known As:

Some pipe.

The Pitch:

As we have seen, the FIRM can be counted on to make you a firm believer by firming up your ass while keeping your resolve firm. Besides supplying an endless stream of puns, the FIRM is "making history" and "changing minds" by allowing the general public to consume its best-guarded technological secret: the Sculpting Stick. Based on the label alone, your interest may have been piqued. "What is thing? A stick for making sculptures? That's pretty cool." It is not. It is just a stick. Sure, you can twist out both ends for some reason, but at the end of the day, this thing isn't fooling anyone.

Research and Development:

This is another instance of negative imagination. The basic idea is sound as people have been working out with barbells for a long time. However, if you take a barbell and eliminate the whole adding/removing a wide range of weights thing, all that you are left with is a marginally heavy stick. You can call it whatever you want, but rest assured that a prehistoric Mesopotamian tribesman has already invented it.

The women in the ad are shown using the thing for balance more than anything else, just like the walking sticks of old. The only problem is that leaning heavily on a stick while you are trying to exercise your legs is counterproductive. Of course, cavemen weren't concerned with targeting specific muscle groups or developing core strength, so we can forgive them for not anticipating the needs of those who would eventually rule the earth: matronly depressives. The FIRM, though, should have known better.

Original here

VIDEO: Are Plastic Water Bottles Safe?

By: Dahlia Rideout (Little_personView Profile)


Source: MSNBC Today Show

A nice short clip from MSNBC about water bottles and leeching chemicals. Its nice to know that there are some things we can do to avoid potential risk. The main take-away is to avoid plastic bottles marked with a "3," 6," or "7" in the plastic recycling triangle stamped on the container.

Original here

What conditions disqualify you from donating blood?

What conditions disqualify you from donating blood?

Asked by Patricia Lowe of Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Some people are disqualified from donating blood because they have diseases that are transmissible via blood. Other potential donors are disqualified because their conditions could endanger themselves.

According to the American Red Cross:

  • Being positive for the AIDS or hepatitis viruses rules one out as a blood donor.
  • Individuals who have had ear, tongue, or other body part piercing are allowed to donate blood as long as the needle used in the piercing was sterile. If it was not or if this is unknown, the potential donor must wait 12 months from the time of the piercing.
  • Being imprisoned rules one out as a blood donor.
  • Being in the US military and serving in Iraq or Afghanistan rules one out as a blood donor for one year.
  • A person with diabetes is allowed to donate blood. Insulin dependent diabetics are allowed to donate blood as long as their insulin syringe, if reused, is used only by them.
  • Being deferred from travel to the UK and Western Europe due to concerns about Mad Cow Disease rules one out as a blood donor.
  • Physically small people are not acceptable as blood donors as they have lower blood volumes and may not be able to safely lose a full pint of blood.
  • One may not donate blood while one has the flu. But one can donate blood after exposure to someone with the flu provided the potential donor feels and has no symptoms.
  • A minimum age limit exists as to how old a person must be in order to donate blood (usually age 17). There is no maximum age limit.
  • Pregnancy and recent childbirth rule one out as a blood donor. The safety of donating blood during and shortly after pregnancy has not been fully established. There may be medical risks to the mother and baby during this time.
  • Having high or low cholesterol does not exclude a person from donating blood.
  • Potential blood donors may be temporarily prevented from donating if they have a low level of iron (hematocrit) in their blood. This requirement is for the safety of the donor in order to ensure that their blood iron level remains within the normal range for a healthy adult.
  • For almost all cancers (such as breast, brain, prostate, and lung), a person may donate blood five years after diagnosis or date of the last surgery, last chemotherapy or last radiation treatment.
  • For blood cancers (such as leukemia or lymphoma), a person is not allowed to donate blood.
  • For non-melanoma skin cancer or a localised cancer that has not spread elsewhere, a person may give blood if the tumour has been removed and healing is complete.
  • If a potential donor has had malaria they cannot donate blood for 12 months. This is because the parasite that causes malaria can lay dormant in a person's system for as long as a year.
  • A person cannot donate blood while they are on antibiotics. This is not because of the antibiotic, but due to the presence of the illness or infection requiring the antibiotic - it may be transmitted through the blood.
  • Stephen Juan, Ph.D. is an anthropologist at the University of Sydney. Email your Odd Body questions to s.juan@edfac.usyd.edu.au

  • Original here

The Vitamin Myth

The Vitamin Myth
New research shows that some vitamins may in fact be harmful.

Wild Claims

Google “vitamins” and you get 50 million results and the wildest claims you can imagine. That’s almost six times more than what you get for “Brad Pitt,” but the descriptions are just as breathless. As you navigate the maze of sites, you see phrases claiming vitamin supplements can “increase energy,” “stimulate brain function” and “improve sex drive.” There are promises of “reversing cancer” and “removing plaque” from your arteries. It all helps explain why Americans shell out $7.5 billion a year on vitamins, hoping to prolong life, slow aging and protect against a bevy of illnesses.

But new research not only refutes many of these claims, it also shows that some of these vitamins may in fact be harmful.

  • A February report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that taking antioxidant vitamins actually increased a person’s risk of dying by up to 16 percent.

  • A study by researchers at the University of Washington last May found that high doses of vitamin E taken over ten years slightly elevated lung cancer risk in smokers.

  • Researchers at the National Cancer Institute found that men who took more than one multivitamin daily had a higher risk of prostate cancer.

    Antioxidant Paradox
    The antioxidant study, in particular, surprised a lot of people and has prompted a heated debate. Antioxidants such as vitamins A, beta carotene (another form of vitamin A), E and C have long enjoyed a reputation as disease fighters because they’re thought to protect against free radicals that can damage cells and speed up aging. But in 47 randomized trials involving almost 181,000 adults, researchers found that taking vitamins A, beta carotene and E, alone or in combination, actually increased a person’s risk of dying by up to 16 percent.

    These latest findings made headlines, but they haven’t convinced everyone. A number of leading health experts criticized the JAMA review, including Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, head of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. He argued that the results were skewed because the studies it reviewed were too diverse and could not be easily compared. It also included deaths from all causes, not just health-related ones.

    Based on these flaws, Bernadine Healy, MD, former head of the NIH and the American Red Cross, deemed the study alarmist and silly. Still, others wonder, why take the risk if you can get what you need from the produce aisle or the farmers’ market?

    “Unless your doctor says you need supplements for a specific diagnosis, there is no reason to take them and no need to spend the money,” says the review’s senior author, Christian Gluud, MD, of Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark.

    The prostate cancer findings from the National Cancer Institute were even more startling because the culprit was the innocuous multivitamin. Researchers found that men taking multivitamins more than once a day increased their risk of advanced prostate cancer by 32 percent and nearly doubled their risk of fatal cancer, compared with men who didn’t take multivitamins. The risk was highest in those who had a family history and also took selenium, beta carotene or zinc supplements.

    Don’t throw away those bottles yet, though. Many experts agree that taking a daily multivitamin is a smart move, especially for those of us who don’t regularly eat whole grains, fresh veggies and fruit. Still, you may want to think twice about swallowing handfuls of certain supplements.

    C Is for Colds
    Even if a vitamin does no harm, it may do, well, nothing. Take the ever popular myth that popping vitamin C will stave off colds. A review of 30 studies involving more than 11,000 people who took at least 200 mg of vitamin C daily found that it offered little protection in reducing the length or severity of common colds for most people. It did work for some people, such as marathon runners and skiers, who undergo periods of high stress, but the study’s authors say the rest of us shouldn’t bother taking it.

    Dosage Dangers
    Most people think of vitamins as natural and safe since they’re sold over the counter everywhere, including health food stores. And many consumers figure you can’t get too much of a good thing. But you can, particularly if you’re on prescription drugs.

    Megadoses of E, for example, can increase the risk of bleeding if you’re already on heart meds like blood thinners. An earlier 2004 analysis by Johns Hopkins researchers found consuming 400 IU or more of vitamin E a day alone (some products on the market today contain 1,000 IU per capsule) was associated with a higher risk of dying and should be avoided. (One theory says high doses may alter your natural immune function and actually become pro-oxidant.) Taking too much niacin without a doctor’s okay can lead to liver damage and other problems over time. And too much vitamin A increases the risk of liver and lung cancers, and can cause birth defects and reduce bone density.

    What consumers tend to forget is that many processed foods and so-called diet foods, from crackers to energy bars, are “fortified” with additional vitamins and minerals. Even some bottled waters, juices and sodas have added them in an effort to appear more healthy. Eat and drink enough of these products, take a few pills, and you could be overdosing. Though rare, bad side effects and even deaths do happen from a vitamin overdose, reports show.

    “Taking more than a DRI [dietary reference intake] of vitamins is associated with problems,” says Michael Roizen, MD, Cleveland Clinic’s chief wellness officer and coauthor with Mehmet Oz, MD, of the You series of health books. “These include osteoporosis, which is caused by too much vitamin A, and neurological problems such as headaches, wobbliness and confusion, caused by too much folate without enough B6 or B12, or too much B12 without enough B6 or folate"

  • Little Oversight

    Vitamins and supplements also lack the government oversight that medical drugs get, and this adds to the confusion and potential dangers. Consumers have no real way of knowing whether labels accurately reflect what’s actually in a pill.

    ConsumerLab.com, a supplement industry watchdog site, recently tested 21 different brands of multivitamins and found that 11 failed quality standards, including meeting their own label claims. For example, their test showed that one product had only about half the calcium its label boasted, and another had almost 300 percent more. One product was found to be tainted with lead. Three didn’t break apart properly, violating the U.S. Pharmacopeia’s 30-minute limit on how quickly a pill should dissolve (to make sure you get the full dose).

    Another study discovered that half of the B-complex supplements analyzed didn’t provide the claimed amounts of folic acid. But that should change over the next few years, thanks to a new FDA ruling that says supplement manufacturers must ensure their products are tested for purity and accurately labeled.

    The Real Benefits
    Not all the news is disappointing. Studies show that vitamin D plays an important role in the absorption of calcium and in boosting bone health. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that adults under 50 get 1,000 mg of calcium and 400 to 800 IU daily of vitamin D3 (the form of D that best supports bone health), and those 50 and older get 1,200 mg of calcium and 800 to 1,000 IU of D3 from food and supplements. But vitamin D may do even more, as Reader’s Digest reported in September 2006. Several studies suggest a link between vitamin D deficiency and cancer, as well as other diseases. And there seems to be little downside to taking vitamin D supplements.

    But some people may need more than the standard recommended amounts of certain vitamins, including pregnant women, who require extra folic acid to help prevent birth defects, and the millions of young women with anemia, who may benefit from iron supplements. Postmenopausal women can take calcium and vitamin D to reduce fracture risk, and those at risk for age-related macular degeneration may benefit from antioxidant and zinc supplements.

    Food Versus a Pill
    Clearly, the jury’s still out on what vitamin supplements can really do. An NIH panel determined last year that there wasn’t yet enough evidence either for or against the use of multivitamins to make a recommendation. One thing that’s clear, though: Getting vitamins and minerals from pills is not as effective as getting them from food, says Dr. Roizen. No one knows for sure why a food source may be more beneficial, but one theory is that nature provides a perfect balance of compounds that isn’t fully replicable in the lab.

    While there’s evidence that vitamins C and E and beta carotene protect the heart when you get them from food, a recent Harvard study found that they don’t provide protection when you get them from a supplement. The Women’s Antioxidant Cardiovascular Study followed 8,100 women with strong risk factors for heart disease for nine years, and the researchers concluded that “widespread use of these individual agents for cardiovascular protection does not appear warranted.”

    Rather than just turning to pills as a remedy, eating a healthy, balanced diet may help you avoid those conditions in the first place, says Robert Eckel, MD, who specializes in preventive cardiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and is the immediate past president of the American Heart Association.

    “I believe in getting the DRI from food as a way of preventing deficiency diseases,” says Dr. Roizen. “But I take a vitamin and mineral supplement as an insurance policy against a less than perfect diet.”

    “There have been many studies looking at supplements,” says Blumberg, “but the most consistent evidence we’ve had over the past 30 years is that eating a healthy diet, low in salt and saturated fat, losing extra weight, exercising moderately, reducing stress, and quitting smoking are our best guarantees against disease and premature death.”

    Everyone needs vitamins and minerals, which are crucial for good health and long life. What we don’t need are megadoses of these essential nutrients in pill form. The greatest health benefits come when we get our vitamins from a balanced diet—but only 3 percent of us eat well enough for that. So unless your doctor has advised you to take a supplement for a specific medical reason, a daily multivitamin is all most healthy individuals need. Read labels to see how much you’re getting of each nutrient, and ask your doctor before starting any vitamin regimen, especially if you already take prescription drugs. Based on the latest studies, here are ten you can skip:

    Vitamin A: Excess amounts accumulate and can be toxic. Too much A can blur vision, cause headaches and vomiting, and also lead to liver, bone and central nervous system problems, among others.

    RDA*: Men - 900 mcg. Women - 700 mcg. One 7-inch carrot has 600 mcg. Other food sources: fortified cereals, dark leafy greens, fruits, sweet potatoes.

    Beta Carotene: The body converts this into vitamin A. Supplementation is not recommended for the general public and should be avoided especially by smokers, who have a greater risk of lung cancer with regular use. Another recent study found that high levels of beta carotene in the blood were linked to three times the risk of aggressive prostate cancer.

    RDA: None established. You can get what you need from dark green and orange fruits and veggies.

    Vitamin C: There’s no conclusive evidence that it prevents colds, heart disease, cataracts or cancer.

    RDA: Men - 90 mg. Women - 75 mg. Smokers need an extra 35 mg. A glass of OJ will give you almost all you need.

    Vitamin E: Large doses can thin the blood and may increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke in those with uncontrolled blood pressure. Has not been proven to protect the heart or prevent cancer.

    RDA: 15 mg. An ounce of dry-roasted almonds will provide almost half your daily needs.

    Selenium: Most Americans get enough of this trace mineral in their diet. One new study suggests that adding more via a pill may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

    RDA: 55 mcg. Grab a tuna sandwich or a handful of Brazil nuts instead.

    More Not to Take

    Folic acid: It’s a must during pregnancy to help prevent birth defects, but recent studies show no real effect for the rest of us against heart disease, cancer or depression. The connection between folate and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s is not yet conclusive either.

    RDA: 400 mcg. Find it in dark green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals and whole-grain breads.

    Niacin: This B vitamin can be used to treat high cholesterol, but only under a doctor’s supervision due to the risk of potentially serious side effects, including liver damage.

    RDA: Men - 16 mg. Women - 14 mg. A multivitamin gives you 20 mg. Some products will give you 500 mg. Stick to meat, fish, poultry, nuts and eggs instead.

    Lycopene: Two studies, one by the FDA, recently concluded that consuming lycopene as a supplement or in rich food sources, such as tomatoes, does not offer strong cancer-fighting protection, as was previously promoted.

    RDA: None established. You should still eat tomatoes (tomato sauce is even better) because they’re full of other important nutrients.

    Iron: Only women who are pregnant or have heavy periods, as well as people with diagnosed deficiency disorders such as anemia, need extra amounts of this mineral. Iron supplements can interact with meds, other dietary supplements and food, and can worsen conditions like ulcers.

    RDA: Women over 50 and all men - 8 mg. Women ages 19 to 50 - 18 mg. Red meat, poultry, fortified cereals, dried beans and lentils, and dark leafy greens are good sources.

    Zinc: High doses can interfere with how the body metabolizes copper and iron, may weaken the immune system and may also reduce levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. Studies are mixed about its effect on the common cold. Zinc supplements can also interact with certain drugs, including some antibiotics, blood pressure medications and NSAIDs.

    RDA: Men - 11 mg. Women - 8 mg. Meat and poultry are high in zinc; vegetarians should eat plenty of grains, beans, nuts, lentils and dairy products.

    Original here

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