Vitamins are naturally occurring substances that are found in most foods we consume in our daily diets. Although they are only required by our bodies in small amounts, they play a vital role in our health. Nutritional supplements may prevent or rectify certain deficiencies; eating a well balanced diet with lots of variety will also achieve this.
There are two main types of vitamins: water soluble vitamins, and fat soluble vitamins. This just means that they enter the body and are absorbed via different mechanisms. Water soluble vitamins include C and B-group vitamins. Fat soluble vitamins include A, D, E and K. Be aware that fat soluble vitamins are stored in fat cells when in excess, and are likely to reach toxic levels if they are consumed in large quantities (above RDI). Also, water soluble vitamins do not stay in the blood stream for very long, so they need to be consumed in regular amounts to ensure that a deficiency does not occur.
There are many different reasons why people choose to use a nutritional supplement (multi-vitamin):
- To supplement a poor diet
- To improve overall health and fitness
- To help alleviate stress
- When they are feeling run down
- To prolong vitality
- To prevent or treat health issues (e.g. colds, cholesterol)
- If you are on other medication which may deplete certain vitamins stores or inhibit their uptake
- During pregnancy or breastfeeding
- If a health care professional has recommended one
These are all great reasons to take a supplement, but are they necessary?
There are many health benefits from taking certain vitamin supplements, like vitamin C for immune system defence, vitamin E for cardiovascular disease protection, vitamin A for eye health, and vitamin D for strong and healthy bones; the list goes on. There are many individuals who will greatly benefit from taking nutritional supplements, including:
– Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding (iron and folate)
– Women who suffer from excessive menstrual bleeding (vitamin B12, iron and folate)
– Women on a contraceptive pill (B-group vitamins)
– Strict vegetarians (iron, calcium and B12)
– Lactose intolerant individuals (calcium)
– Smokers (vitamin C)
– Alcoholics (vitamin B1)
All of these are excellent reasons to include a nutritional supplement in your daily routine. Keep also in mind that an individual with very poor dietary habits (who isn’t going to change), will benefit from a multi-vitamin, as it will provide the RDI they need.
There are, however, valid reasons for not taking nutritional supplements:
– They are expensive
– They may guard against deficiencies, but they don’t rectify the issue of a poor diet and lifestyle
– Large, regular doses of fat soluble vitamins may cause toxicity
– Vitamins and minerals are more easily absorbed and utilised by our body from the food we eat, rather than from an artificial source
– If you consume a well balanced diet, you most likely don’t need to take a supplement (the body will eliminate excess vitamins and minerals, as it can only store certain quantities of each)
When choosing whether to buy a nutritional supplement, take into consideration why you think you need one and what deficiency you are trying to avoid, or problem you are trying to rectify. Compare brands and contents of each product, because they will vary depending on the manufacturer. Vitamin supplements can definitely be used as a “top up” to a healthy diet, to ensure your daily nutritional requirements are met.
However, if you are consuming a well balanced diet, it is not necessary to take them in the long term.
If you are unsure of whether you need a nutritional supplement or a change in your dietary habits, consult your doctor or nutritionist, to help you further understand your lifestyle and dietary habits, and what benefit vitamins and minerals can have.