At every grocery and drug store you will find shelves of vitamins and supplements. From familiar ones such as vitamin C, to those you may be less acquainted with such as St. John’s Wart and milk thistle. It may make you wonder if you should be taking these vitamins and minerals on a regular basis. But do you really need to? Should you be buying into the hype or is less truly more?
All foods contain both macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are bigger in size and provide calories, or energy. Macronutrients include proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that are required for normal bodily processes to occur such as blood clotting, energy production and immune function, to name a few. Just like macronutrients, we need to obtain micronutrients from the food we eat. In recent years supplementation of vitamins and minerals has become increasingly popular. However, the FDA does not regulate and oversee vitamin and supplement production as strictly as they do pharmaceuticals. The FDA regulates dietary supplements under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which prohibits distributors and manufacturers of supplements from marketing false or misbranded products and ensures that they meet all of the requirements of the DSHEA and FDA regulations. The manufacturers and distributors are in charge of evaluating the safety and labeling of the products to ensure they meet the requirements of the DSHEA and FDA before they hit the market.
The National Institute of Health states that American’s have been taking multivitamin/mineral (MVM) supplements since the 1940’s when they first became available. But the real question is, do you need to be taking vitamin supplements? If you are consuming a wide variety of foods in your diet, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy foods, then more than likely you do not need to add vitamin and mineral supplements to your diet. Supplements also lack trace elements that are found in real foods such as fiber and phytochemicals in addition to antioxidants.
However, there are some cases where you may be eating a well-rounded diet, but it is not enough to give you all the nutrients your body needs. Those who may benefit from taking supplements include:
Women who may become pregnant should consume 400 mcg of folate per day from supplements or from foods that are fortified or naturally containing folate. However folic acid, the form found in supplements is more readily available for absorption. Folic acid prevents neural tube birth defects.
Women who are pregnant should take a prenatal vitamin that includes iron or a separate iron supplement.
Adults over the age of 50 should eat foods that are fortified with vitamin B-12 or take a supplement containing vitamin B-12. As we age our bodies make less stomach acid, which produces a glycoprotein that is required for B-12 absorption.
Adults over the age of 65 should take a vitamin D supplement to help prevent cognitive decline and depression.
Women should take a calcium supplement, especially after they turn 35 due to inevitable bone loss that occurs during menopause.
Patient’s who undergo surgeries that alter the stomach or intestines are recommended to supplement vitamins B12, vitamin D, iron, calcium and vitamin C due to the changes in the ability to absorb these crucial micronutrients.
Vegetarians/vegans who are at risk for consuming lower amounts of vitamin B-12, iron, calcium and vitamin D may want to consider take dietary supplements.
A majority of vitamins dissolve in water and are known as water-soluble vitamins. This group of vitamins is not easily stored in the body and when there are excess amounts, they are excreted in urine. Fat soluble vitamins are not dissolved in water and are stored in the liver and fatty tissue for future use. Fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K pose a greater risk for toxicity than water soluble vitamins when consumed in excess. However, toxicity is not likely to occur when eating a well-balanced diet. It is when individuals take supplements containing a megadose which may lead to toxicity. If you feel you may need to add supplements into your diet, it is important to discuss it with your doctor because certain drug and vitamin combinations can cause harmful effects. Another downside to supplements is they can be expensive and if you are consuming adequate amounts through your diet you may be wasting money.
The bottom-line is, supplements can benefit people who have certain health conditions such as pregnant women, the elderly, or people who have had surgery on their GI tract. They may also be beneficial for those who are not consuming a diet with adequate nutrients. Always consult with a dietitian and a physician to determine what you may be missing from your diet and how you can increase these amounts.
Written by: Olivia Sellers, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern
1. Mayo Clinic