Somewhere along the way, someone in your life has told you how important it is to take your vitamins. Whether it was your mother, your doctor, your grandmother, or a spokesperson on TV, you learned that vitamins play an important part in maintaining good health.
With vitamin sales being a multi-billion dollar industry, you may be questioning the truth behind vitamins – do you really need to take a multivitamin every day? Or is this just a ploy to sell more vitamin supplements?
Vitamins and Your Health
In an ideal world, you should be able to get all of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that your body needs through your healthy, balanced diet. Unfortunately, most people in the US have a nutrient poor diet that falls far short of providing the vitamins and nutrients that we need to stay healthy and strong.
We have an abundance of highly processed and nutrient poor foods available to us. Even when cutting out processed food and sticking to a whole foods diet rich in nutritional value, it can be challenging to get the right balance of vitamins and minerals on a daily basis. That is where multivitamins come into play.
The purpose of a multivitamin is to fill in the nutritional gaps in our daily diet, however they should not be used to replace a healthy, well-balanced diet. There are also some health considerations to be aware of.
What do Vitamins Do?
Vitamins are essential to healthy body functions. Different vitamins serve different purposes, for example, calcium strengthens our bones, and Vitamin C boosts our immune system. Vitamins give us energy, help protect our cells, regulate bodily systems, and affect organ function. Getting the right balance of nutrition is a key element to maintaining physical, emotional and mental health.
Here’s a great video on what vitamins do:
Vitamin supplements are designed to fill in the gaps of our nutrient intake.
A big question then is are vitamin supplements good for you and do they really work? Good questions. There are some conflicting and inconclusive studies out about the efficacy of taking vitamin supplements in preventing chronic disease. Some studies have shown positive benefits in curbing certain diseases and chronic health conditions such as colon cancer; however other studies have shown little impact. The National Institute of Health states that further research is necessary.
There are some known contraindications for certain people, especially for cancer patients, so you should consult your doctor before taking a vitamin supplement if you have any type of health condition.
Too Much Of A Good Thing?
If you are wondering if multivitamins or other vitamin supplements are safe, there is little need for worry as long as you stay within the DRV’s (Daily Recommended Value). You should, however, be aware that too much of a good thing can be harmful. Pay attention to recommended daily values and avoid exceeding them. Taking an excess of certain vitamins can lead to health problems.
That being said, studies have shown benefits to adding vitamin supplements to your diet. Many people in the US have nutrient deficiencies that can lead to serious health problems. Common deficiencies include: calcium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin D, magnesium and vitamin C.
Signs of Common Vitamin Deficiencies:
Vitamin A deficiency signs include dry, cracked skin, slow wound healing, poor night vision, reduced sense of smell, taste or hearing, and nerve damage.
Vitamin D deficiency signs include osteomalacia (soft, porous bones) in adults and rickets in children.
Vitamin E deficiency signs include an inability to absorb fat.
Vitamin C deficiency signs include decreased immune function, bleeding gums, slow wound healing, and muscle pains.
Iron deficiency signs include weakness, fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath, cold extremities, dizziness, and a fast or irregular heartbeat.
Calcium deficiency signs include muscle cramps, lethargy, tingling in fingers, mental confusion, and skeletal malformations.
Magnesium deficiency symptoms include anxiety, sleep disorders, irritability, nausea, restless leg syndrome, low blood pressure, muscle spasms and weakness, and abnormal heart rhythms.
As you can see from this short list of common vitamin deficiencies in people in the US, not getting adequate vitamins and minerals into your body can create significant health concerns.
The best thing that you can do for your body is to eat a healthy, well balanced diet so that you can meet most of your nutritional needs through the foods that you eat. This means you need to eat a diet that contains a variety of vegetables, whole grains, fruits and protein sources such as fish, meats and other protein rich foods. Stick to whole and organic foods and stay away from processed nutrient depleted and highly processed foods.
Due to the hustle and bustle of life, you will likely still fall short of getting all of the nutrients that you need from your food, but make an effort to get most of your nutritional needs met through your diet. If you are eating a less than ideal diet or feel that you may be falling short on meeting your nutritional needs through diet alone, add in a daily multivitamin to cover the nutrients that you may be missing out on.
What Vitamins to Take: How to Choose a Vitamin Supplement
Here are some general tips on choosing a vitamin supplement:
- USP Verification: look for USP on the label. This shows that the supplement meet the standards of the United States Pharmacopeia. This shows that the supplement actually contains the listed ingredients as labeled, has no contaminants, and meets FDA and USP standards of manufacturing, sanitation and processing.
- Check for the Basics: Make sure the multivitamin contains the following: Vitamins A, C, E, K, D2 or 3, B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid) B6, B9 (folic acid), potassium, iodine, selenium, borate, zinc, calcium, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, beta carotene, and possibly iron.
- Check the DRV’s: Some multivitamin supplements go a bit overboard on the percentages, so look for supplements that provide 100% daily value for most of the vitamins but does not exceed it. Large doses of vitamins can become toxic.
- Special Formulas and Extras: Multivitamin supplements are available for different groups and nutritional or health needs. Read your labels carefully to make sure you are getting the right nutrients for your body. Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist for guidance.