Many Americans take at least one daily dietary supplement, the most frequently taken supplement being the all-encompassing multivitamin. But are Americans wasting their money on these unregulated capsules and powders?
Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients that benefit a particular area of the body. For example, vitamin A supports vision and bone growth, whereas vitamin E strengthens the immune system and helps repair DNA. Vitamin and mineral deficiency can impair the body’s ability to heal and protect itself. Vitamins are naturally occurring, organic nutrients and include vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K. Minerals are inorganic compounds and include calcium, magnesium, iron, and sodium. Supplements, however, which are what we commonly found sold, is a catch-all term which includes vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, etc.
As far as vitamin supplementation goes, few people in the U.S. are deficient in vitamin A. The retinol form is found in eggs, liver, whole milk, dark green leafy vegetables and orange or yellow fruit and is more readily absorbed than the beta-carotene version. Most people get plenty of the B vitamins through their diet. Evidence is mixed for whether vitamin C can help you avoid or reduce cold symptoms. Vitamin D can be activated just with some sun exposure and is found in fatty fish, eggs, and fortified dairy products. Multivitamins could be beneficial in certain populations: women who are pregnant, breast-feeding, or trying to conceive; dieters consuming fewer than 1,200 calories a day or cutting out an entire food group, like carbs, and those with medical conditions that affect digestion and food absorption. It is also important to note that fat soluble vitamins, as their name suggests, can be stored in fat, and in large doses can be dangerous. In excess, water soluble vitamins can be excreted in the urine and rarely pose danger when consumed in large amounts.
Some experts say there is no guarantee that a vitamin or supplement will give the results it claims. So it's important to be educated about the ingredients in vitamins and supplements, especially when many vitamins are likely to be unnecessary. If you're unsure about an ingredient, ask your doctor or research online. If you are taking prescription medication of any kind, it's imperative to consult with your physician to ensure you're aware of any side effects or interference that can happen by combining vitamins and antibiotics.
Taking vitamins does not make up for an unhealthy diet, and vitamins are an insufficient substitute for nutrients from fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. However, a general multivitamin and mineral supplement has been promoted heavily over the past two decades as a good safeguard against periodic vitamin shortfalls in your diet. The best way to ensure you meet the standards for vitamins and minerals is to eat healthy foods (especially fruits, vegetables and whole grains). Combined with a healthy lifestyle, including exercise and not smoking, a healthy diet should help you meet all nutritional requirements.