Grocery stores, health stores, and even gas station convenience shops are stocked with products that claim to boost energy, enhance functionality and improve your health. Among these products are vitamin supplements. With so many vitamin supplements available, it’s hard to know which offer the most benefits or even if you need to take them at all.
Although the average person in the United States consumes more calories than their body needs, our diets often lack the vital nutrients we need to keep our bodies in tip-top shape. For that reason, many people turn to supplements. But before you can determine whether you should take vitamins and which ones, it’s important to know how they work.
What are vitamins?
Vitamins are natural substances found in food that our bodies use to develop and function normally. It’s best to get your vitamins from a well-balanced diet rather than from supplements. In fact, eating a varied diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein is usually sufficient in helping your body to get all the nutrients it needs.
Sometimes, however, our bodies don’t get all of these important natural vitamins. Individuals who are elderly, pregnant or breastfeeding, have certain health problems, or eat a vegetarian or vegan diet may be advised by their doctor to take supplements.
Consulting with your doctor is an important first step to help you find the right vitamin supplement. Depending on your age, lifestyle and health, there may be certain supplements you need and some you should avoid.
Typically multivitamins contain 13 essential vitamins: A, C, D, E, K, and the various forms of vitamin B (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, patothenic acid, biotin, B-6, B-12, and folate). Most contain at least 100% of the recommended daily value for each vitamin as set by the Food and Drug Administration. Vitamins can also be taken individually, rather than in multivitamin form.
When it comes to vitamins, keep in mind: more does not necessarily mean better. High doses can lead to health problems or interfere with medication. It’s also important to remember that supplements aren’t a cure-all, but they may help your body’s health when used appropriately.
Here are a few common vitamin supplements and their benefits:
Folic acid (vitamin B9) – Women in their childbearing years who may become pregnant should consume 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. This vitamin helps prevent neural tube defects after conception and is crucial for fetal cell growth and development. Because this development usually occurs before a woman knows she’s pregnant and only half of pregnancies are planned, folic acid is beneficial for any women who may become pregnant.
Vitamin B12 – Found naturally in meat, shellfish and animal products, vitamin B12 may be beneficial for vegans, as well as individuals over 50 years of age whose bodies can’t absorb it well naturally. Needed to produce red blood cells and nerve cells, a lack of vitamin B12 can cause weakness and anemia.
Vitamin C – This vitamin helps your body heal wounds and repair cartilage, bones and teeth. Individuals over 55 are at high risk for vitamin C deficiency. Because your body does not make or store vitamin C, it’s important to include it in your diet.
Vitamin D – Aiding in calcium absorption, this vitamin supplement may benefit those who are over 50, who are obese, who have dark skin, or who have limited exposure to sunlight.
If you think you may be at risk for vitamin deficiency, talk with your doctor to find the healthiest solution for you.
Dr. David Barnes is a board-certified family medicine physician and member of ProMedica Physician Group. For more information, visit www.ppgdocs.org.