All adults should take one multivitamin enriched with vitamin E a day to fortify their immune systems in the battle against viruses and bacteria. That was the message from Professor Kenneth Lee Kwing-chin, head of pharmacy practice at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, at a symposium organised by the Hong Kong Chinese Medical Association last week. More than 200 medical doctors and professionals attended the Clinical Importance of Vitamins & Supplements symposium - sponsored by Vita Green Health Products - to share new clinical findings on the importance of vitamins and supplements to a healthy life. The symposium invited Professor Lee, Dr Richard Lo Kwong-yin and Dr Chun Siu-yeung to speak on the use of vitamins and supplements in a few pressing health issues: the immune system and general health, prostatic hypertrophy and orthopaedic trauma. The recent outbreak of atypical pneumonia has fuelled public interest in the use of vitamins. According to clinical research conducted in the United States, elderly people who take vitamin E regularly are better able to fight off viruses and bacteria. Professor Lee recommends adults take one multivitamin a day. 'Though it is not harmful to take more vitamins than is necessary, it would be more convenient and cost-effective to take a multivitamin instead of individual vitamins tablets,' he says. 'In addition, a large proportion of the population needs supplements of more than one vitamin. To further boost our immune systems, it is advised to choose a multivitamin which is enriched with vitamin E.' In Professor Lee's experience, classic vitamin deficiency syndromes rarely occur in developed countries. 'Most people are overly nutritious. However, poor intake, abnormal losses [associated with weight-reducing drugs], smoking or excessive drinking can increase the chances of a vitamin deficiency. As a result, vitamin therapy is essential to help remedy unbalanced and insufficient diets.' Professor Lee says there is increasing evidence of the clinical benefits of vitamins. 'Medical research has shown that regular vitamin intake can reduce the possibility of chronic disease, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and osteoporosis.' He recommends people take vitamins from an early age. 'Children do not usually have a very well-balanced diet, and they tend to eat more junk food and fast food,' Professor Lee says. 'Vitamin supplements will be very beneficial to both their health and growth.' In the United States, 30 per cent of the population takes vitamin supplements regularly. In Hong Kong, people are slowly catching on to the habit, thanks to a more westernised lifestyle. People are advised to seek professional advice from their family doctors or pharmacists on vitamin usage, dosage and even brands. 'There are more than 10,000 products on the market and the product quality can range significantly,' says Professor Lee. 'People should consult their doctors or pharmacists, or stick with a well-known brand name. It will be safer and more advised for people to avoid cheap products.' Dr Lo spoke on urology, while Dr Chun spoke on orthopaedic trauma. Dr Chun, a specialist in orthopaedic surgery, spoke on the benefits of natural supplements in preventing and repairing damage to cartilage, the protective cushion in joints which facilitates their flexibility. When the cartilage becomes worn due to injury, wrong movements, excessive exercise or even wear and tear, the exposed bones will rub together. This will lead to painful symptoms such as joint pain, stiffness or swelling. In addition, as people get older, their bodies may not produce sufficient levels of glucosamine. This will lead to weakened resilience and tensile strength of articular cartilage, and may lead to damaged joints in knees, hips, the lower back, neck, ankles and hands - trauma that can disrupt daily activities and functionality. This is especially the case for Hong Kong women, who often suffer from weak joints due to a predominately low-calcium diet, excessive work pressure and stress, and a lack of regular exercise. As for the opposite sex, men might suffer joint pain as a result of over-exercising, or bad posture from long hours working in front of computers. 'Drug therapy can provide a cure,' Dr Chun said. 'However, long-term drug therapy will damage the kidneys. 'There are studies that support the view a natural supplement intake of glucosamine can help stimulate the production of cartilage in the joints, which will greatly relieve painful symptoms,' he says.