Week of October 22, 2012
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

AICR HealthTalk
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Do supplements of B vitamins really help people who are nervous or low on energy?

A: Supplements can legally carry claims about how a nutrient is linked to structures or functions in the body, but these claims don’t always mean what consumers assume. Vitamins B-12 and B-1 (thiamin) are important for healthy nerve cells that send messages to the brain, allowing us to see, smell and move. However, that does not mean that boosting these vitamins offers any help to people who feel nervous. Likewise, we need several B vitamins for metabolic processes that convert the food we eat into energy. If your diet is low in B vitamins, therefore, you may feel less fatigued if you boost consumption of these vitamins. Other people, such as those who have had certain kinds of digestive tract surgery or disease (such as celiac disease or Crohn’s) or who take medications (like some peptic ulcer meds or metformin), may not absorb the B-12 they need despite adequate intake. Because about 10-30 percent of adults over age 50 have reduced stomach acid that splits food’s vitamin B-12 into an absorbable form, they are advised to take a B-12 supplement. However, once needs are met, research suggests that adding more does not improve energy level. If you are low on energy because of lack of sleep, over-zealous calorie-cutting, a poor diet low in other nutrients, a sedentary lifestyle or too much work or stress, you need to address the real problem to resolve your energy shortage.

Q: How can I be sure my baby is getting enough from breastfeeding? My mother keeps telling me I should “supplement” with formula, too.

A: In most cases, experts advise not to feed a baby formula while getting breastfeeding established, because this can decrease baby’s demand for breast milk and end up reducing mother’s milk supply. Ask your baby’s doctor if your baby is growing at a healthy rate. It is quite normal for babies to lose weight during the first week after birth, but then should be consistently gaining. Growth rate of breastfed babies is typically a bit slower than that of babies fed only formula, and research now suggests this may be a healthier pattern. For the first few days, mothers produce thick, immune-boosting colostrum rather than regular milk. After that, expect your baby to wet five to six disposable, or six to eight cloth, diapers daily. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, besides the number of wet diapers, another sign that your baby is getting enough milk is acting satisfied after each feeding. At first, your baby may have two to over five bowel movements daily, but then it is quite normal to reduce to two or fewer daily. Feed your baby as often as he or she wants to feed, which will change with growth spurts, but is usually at least eight times a day. Let your baby nurse until satisfied, often 10 to 20 minutes per breast. Your body produces breast milk based on demand, so if you think your baby needs more milk, boost production by adding extra feeding times daily. Also, make sure you are getting adequate rest and drinking enough water. And not only does smoking let harmful chemicals into your breast milk, it also reduces your milk supply; so if you’ve been a smoker, this is a fabulous reason to quit. If you have questions, or think your baby is having trouble getting the hang of this, contact a lactation (breastfeeding) consultant at your local hospital or the La Leche league in your community or online.

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