Dr. Roach: Healthy food has all the vitamins your body needs

Keith Roach
To Your Health

Dear Dr. Roach: I follow you regularly, but I haven’t heard one word on ways to build your immunity. Supplements abound, offering strength for the immune system. For me, some have been a tremendous support. I’m 65 and thankfully healthy, but I take vitamin Bs and Ds, and many other body-support supplements. Why no mention of supplements? Surely you believe in commonsense vitamins and nutritional supplements. Of course, I also eat lots of fruits and vegetables, etc., but our foods simply do NOT provide enough.

— S.S.

Dear S.S.: I don’t recommend vitamins or supplements to build the immune system because I disagree with you that our foods don’t provide enough. I am all for common sense, but what one generation considers common sense can be proven completely wrong in another generation. I believe in data, and there are now strong data showing that additional vitamin supplementation in people who consume a healthy diet provides no benefit. There is also not much evidence that dietary supplements lead to any measurable improvements in healthy people.

For people with an unhealthy diet, efforts to make their diet healthier are more likely to result in a better outcome than supplements. The immune system cannot be boosted through supplements. It may work poorly through frank deficiencies, but this is uncommon.

I may well be proven wrong. If good data show that nutritional supplements improve the function of the immune system, or any other significant health outcome in a well-done trial, I’ll publish it in my column.

Dear Dr. Roach: This might be a frivolous question, but is it safe to get a tattoo if I have a pacemaker? I have been told it is not safe, but I don’t think much research has been done. Your answer could save people from a needless risk.

— S.B.

Dear S.B.: I don’t think it is frivolous at all. Many people are getting tattoos, and considering the medical risks of a tattoo is important, especially in older adults or those with greater medical issues. When researching the answer, I found a lot of conflicting information.

Because tattooing machines emit an electromagnetic field, there is a theoretical reason to be concerned. Strong magnetic fields turn pacemakers off, by design. However, the field of a tattoo machine is not strong, and Medtronic, one of the largest pacemaker manufacturers, considers tattoo machines to be minimal risk. It recommends keeping the tattoo machine at least 6 inches away from the pacemaker. I read many reports of people getting tattoos right on top of the pacemaker without problems, but I would recommend being conservative.

By contrast, an induction cooktop has a much stronger magnetic field and is a much higher risk. Medtronic recommends keeping a pacemaker 2 feet away. A microwave oven presents no danger at all to pacemaker function, presuming it is in good working condition.

There are still some tattoos made by hand, without a machine, especially in traditions from Japan and Hawaii. These would be safest from the standpoint of a pacemaker.

Readers may email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.