In today’s age, it’s hard to know which vitamins and supplements are the right ones for your individual nutritional needs and requirements. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, your dietary needs should get met by managing the food you eat. Not that vitamins and supplements aren’t reasonable or necessary. It means they shouldn’t substitute healthy foods.
Whole foods Versus Nutritional Supplements
If you are mostly healthy and consume a broad variety of whole foods, you probably don’t need to take supplements. While dietary supplements can be useful, you still want to make sure you are eating plenty of whole grains, fruits, low-fat dairy products, fish, vegetables, and lean meats.
There are three fundamental advantages to eating whole foods over taking vitamins and supplements:
• They contain substances that protect the body. There are a lot of whole foods that are excellent sources antioxidants. These substances cause the natural process in the body that leads to tissue and cell damage to slow down. The research done on antioxidant supplements doesn’t offer sufficient proof that they provide equal benefits to antioxidants found in foods.
• They provide essential dietary fiber. Legumes, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits are high in fiber, which as part of a wholesome diet, can impede specific diseases, like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Fiber also helps control constipation.
• They offer better nutrition than supplements. Whole foods contain a mixture of micronutrients necessary for proper body function and maintenance.
The benefits listed show how the vitamins you get from food are better than what you can get from a pill.
Although manufacturers synthesize the vitamins in supplements to the same chemical composition of naturally obtained vitamins, supplements don’t seem to have equivalent efficacy.
Food is an intricate provider of plant chemicals or phytochemicals, minerals, and vitamins that all manage well together. On the other hand, supplements are apt to work in isolation.
Studies show how a component of food that affects the body a specific way does not always have the same effect when taken as a supplement. The reason for this could be because vitamins and minerals in food are not merely influenced by the active ingredient, but other various components have an impact.
Phytochemicals are a unique substance in food research has shown lessens the incidence of cancer and heart disease, but you can’t get the same benefits from supplements.
Taking Vitamin Supplementation for Common Ailments
Ensuring your diet has the vitamins and minerals it needs to have good health is essential. They can help with some common health concerns. It’s not always easy to get the correct amounts of vitamins required each day with food alone, and supplements can help and for a variety of conditions like skin problems, fatigue, and headaches.
Below are a few common ailments and the recommended vitamins and minerals that can help with them:
• Calcium can relieve common digestive problems, like acid indigestion, and diarrhea from gastrointestinal inflammation.
• Vitamin C helps with colds and offers protection from more severe infections, like pneumonia.
• Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to higher percentages of body fat, particularly visceral fat, which increases the chances of developing diabetes or heart disease. So, supplementing with vitamin D can in ways help with weight loss.
• Magnesium gets reduced in the body with high levels of alcohol consumption. Supplementation can improve the way a person feels when experiencing a hangover by soothing headaches and muscle cramps.
• Zinc is helpful in treating acne and reduces the duration of cold sore infections, which is why it is common in many skin care products.
Do Vitamins Prevent Heart Disease and Cancer?
A recent update to a report given by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force reveals shocking evidence about the efficacy of multivitamins in preventing cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Sure, people take vitamin supplements to provide their body with nutrients they may not get from diet alone. However, many people take supplements hoping them to be a magic elixir to prevent a chronic condition.
According to the report from the USPSTF, there is insufficient evidence that shows real benefit or harm with taking vitamin supplements, such as vitamin A, C or D, calcium, folic acid, or selenium.
So, does this mean there’s no point to taking supplements? By no means. Taking vitamins supplements are good to make up for when nutrients are lacking from the diet. However, not all the research is conclusive on whether supplements prevent cancer or heart disease.
• Some studies show benefit in preventing cardiovascular disease by taking antioxidant vitamin combinations, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta-carotene.
• Folic acid has been proven to decrease risks for colon cancer significantly.
• Some dietitians may recommend vitamin E for the prevention of prostate cancer, and beta-carotene supplements could also help with this for men who have low amounts of beta-carotene in their body.
• Fish have unsaturated fatty acids which may lower your cholesterol. Fatty fish have a beneficial nutrient called omega-3 fatty acids. If you aren’t able to eat at least one to two servings of fish a week, supplementing with omega-3 or fish oil supplements could help lower blood pressure slightly, reduce irregular heartbeats, decrease heart failure and stroke risk, reduce blood clotting and decrease triglycerides. Omega-3 packs a powerful punch if you have heart concerns.
The National Institutes of Health reports nearly one-third of Americans to take a multivitamin. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that 40 percent of Americans do not satisfy the EAR or estimated average requirement of many essential micronutrients.
That’s disheartening news.
The report also reveals how most Americans do not fulfill the EAR for potassium, vitamin D, and calcium, including children. Also, vitamin B12 is usually inadequate for adults over 50 years old, and iron is lacking in pregnant women and younger children.
Malnutrition is common among the U.S. elderly. Low-calorie diets, alcohol, and smoking are the culprits that compromise how we absorb and consume nutrients.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Americans suffer from the following deficiencies:
• 55 percent deficiency of Magnesium
• 45 percent of vitamin A
• 93 percent vitamin D
• 37 percent vitamin C
• 49 percent calcium
Health Benefits of Taking Multivitamins
Many people take multivitamins as an insurance policy they are getting their daily amount of nutritional needs based on their sex and age. If you aren’t sure which vitamins to start with or which you’re not getting enough of, then start with a multivitamin.
A health professional might prescribe a multivitamin when people have specific health risks. These are circumstances in which a doctor might recommend increased doses of vitamins and minerals:
• 400 IU daily of Vitamin D for babies that are breastfeeding
• Calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin A for postmenopausal women to counter bone breakage or loss
• 400 mg of Folic acid to prevent neural tube birth defects
• Vitamin B6 to lessen depression and boost serotonin during menopause
• Vitamin B12 to help with B12 deficiency in people over 50 years old.
• Vitamin C, L-arginine, beta-carotene, and vitamin E to lower the risk during pregnancy of preeclampsia.
• Zinc, vitamin C, zeaxanthin, vitamin E, lutein, and beta-carotene to prevent macular degeneration caused by aging.
Aside from the popular nutrients like potassium, vitamin C, magnesium, and iron, the following is a list of other nutrients to look for in a good multivitamin:
• Niacin, riboflavin, thiamin
• B6, B12
• Biotin, pantothenic acid, folic acid
• Zinc, calcium, selenium, magnesium
• Molybdenum, borate, iodine
• Vitamins A, D2, D3, E, and K
Toxicity of Vitamin Supplementation in High Doses
Some people think because supplements provide nutrients that taking extra doses will only increase the effects. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Having more of a vitamin than what is necessary can create serious health problems.
Because vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K are fat soluble – meaning they get stored in the body – taking high doses of them can be toxic. Some other vitamins that are water soluble, such as vitamin B6, when taken in high doses can also be dangerous. Paying attention to the RDI or recommended dietary intake is vital.
Minerals in excessive amounts pose a problem as well. Take these common problems as examples:
• Vitamin A in high doses can cause skin, nervous system, bone, and liver disorders
• Too much iron can cause iron toxicity which could lead to nausea, gastrointestinal upset, and in severe cases coma or death.
• Large amounts of vitamin B6 may cause nerve damage.
• High doses of fish oil can cause blood clotting.
• Excessive intake of fluoride could stain or weaken teeth.
• Too much vitamin C may give you diarrhea.
When taking supplements, attempt to remain as close to the RDI as possible. Only when prescribed by a medical professional should you take high doses of supplements.
How much is enough?
While you don’t want to overdo it with supplements, you want to make sure you are getting an adequate amount of nutrients. Too much cannot get said about implementing a healthy diet rich with a variety of foods. Vitamin supplements cannot replace food and certainly cannot provide all the same health benefits.
You want to make sure the nutrients you intake are getting absorbed. A drink like a coffee can inhibit calcium and iron absorption. That’s just one example, but ideally, you want to take supplements with a meal to ensure you are getting the maximum absorption.
The quality of the supplements you take is just as important as the quality of the food you eat. A high-quality supplement is not synthetic but rather food-based. A few brands to consider include:
• New Chapter
Another thing to consider regarding absorption of vitamins is the supplement’s form. Experts recommend if you take multivitamins to take ones in capsule form because they get absorbed quickly. Even though some people might find liquid supplements easier to swallow, most of them lack the enzymes which help the absorption of vitamins.
Interactions between Supplements and Medications
Nearly 72 million people in the U.S. take a dietary supplement together with prescription medication.
According to an FDA medical officer, some supplements can increase the effect of medicine while others can decrease it. The reason is that some vitamin and mineral supplements alter metabolism, absorption or excretion of a specific medication which affects how well the medicine works in the body. As a result, you could get too little or too much of a drug.
Lifestyle and Supplements
Some people wonder if vitamins work better at keeping you healthy than exercise. Others wonder if you need more of one over the other. It’s worth repeating that supplements are not substitutes. A healthful lifestyle is one that incorporates moderate activity and a balanced diet.
According to recommendations from Harvard Medical School, proper nutrition should not be merely supplemental but an equal partner with physical activity, which together promotes good health and prevention, making up unofficial “vitamins” D (diet) and E (exercise).
FDA-Approved Versus Other Seals of Approval and Certification
The Food and Drug Administration does not routinely do testing for efficacy and safety on supplements as they do drugs. Seeing a seal of approval from U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, NSF International or UL, which began certifying supplements in 2016, are not guarantees that a supplement is safe or has therapeutic value, but they indicate that the product contains the advertised ingredients and do not have dangerous substances such as lead or arsenic.
Talk to Your Doctor First
You want to include your doctor in your decision-making process when considering supplements. A physician might not recommend them at all or can diagnose deficiencies in which case he or she may prescribe increased doses of a particular nutrient.
Doctors consider your health issues, risks, current diet, and age when recommending or prescribing vitamin and mineral supplements. If your doctor doesn’t have much knowledge on the supplement you are considering, consult a dietitian to work with you and your physician.