Health & Nutrition

March 22, 2012

Vitamins – To Supplement or Not To Supplement?

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How many do we need? If any at all...

Should you take a vitamin supplement and if so, do you take a multi-vitamin or perhaps just a little extra vitamin C?

Is any one vitamin more important than another?

And aren’t vitamins for the elderly anyway?

Arguments for and against supplements are many; and the decision to take supplements is personal and self-prescribed.  How many of your friends and family have taken a supplement based on another’s recommendation?  Have you tried a new vitamin based on a friend or your mom’s advice?  I have.

According to the Office of Dietary Supplements approximately one-third of Americans and 25% of young children take a multivitamin supplement.  That is a big industry — multi-billion dollar industry!

Our bodies need four fat soluble vitamins and nine water soluble vitamins.  We also need a variety of minerals which will be a topic for a future article.  The four fat soluble vitamins are A, D, E, and K and the nine water soluble vitamins include the B vitamins and vitamin C.  While they each have extensive and important roles in the body, below is an overview of their main role.

Vitamins play many roles in our overall health.

A Daily Multi as Dietary Insurance

Most people take a vitamin supplement to improve their nutrition status.  For instance, women who have heavy menstrual cycles lose iron during their menstruation and may benefit from taking a supplement.  Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant are encouraged to take folate (a B vitamin) supplements to prevent neural tube defects.  Also women who breastfeed have higher nutrient needs and may choose to temporarily supplement.

Rather than self prescribe, consult your doctor before shelling out dollars for an over the counter supplement. states people who do not eat enough food or those who are on special diets such as vegetarian, may be encouraged to take a supplement. Yet, these individuals may only require one specific supplement rather than a whole assortment or multivitamin. Their needs would be based on their diet and on the advice of a registered dietitian.

A Balanced and Varied Diet is Best

If you are able, try to eat a balanced and varied diet to obtain your nutrient needs. Whole foods taste better and offer fiber.  As always, ask your doctor about any particular vitamins you are curious about and take his/her suggestions into consideration.  For instance, whenever I travel to remote international places where the variety of foods may be questionable (i.e. tons of starch and little fresh fruit or green veggies) I take along a multivitamin.  This decision is based on a conversation I had with my doctor concerning my specific health needs.

While the decision to take a multivitamin seems easy, every person’s decision is different.  A daily multivitamin isn’t just for the elderly.  Taking one specific vitamin over another is a discussion warranted with your doctor.  All of the vitamins are equally important and are integral to our health.

Do you take a daily vitamin or a multivitamin?

Resources to use:

Harvard’s School of Public Health – The Daily Multivitamin – Supplements
National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine, a National Institutes of Health site
Office of Dietary Supplements – Quick Facts

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9 thoughts on “Vitamins – To Supplement or Not To Supplement?

  1. Yes vitamins are essential and important to our body, but what percentage of the vitamin is your body actually getting? Poor mineral absorption levels and the creation of free radicals negate many of the benefits of traditional multivitamin-mineral supplements. The most available mineral forms and most often used are oxides, gluconates, sulfates and fumarates. Even though they dissolve in the stomach, they actually crystallize in the small intestine. This renders them useless since this is where nutrient absorption actually takes place.
    just know what you are taking, know the facts. I take vitamins that are 85% more soluable than any thing on the market, and have the scientific facts and personal testimony to be aware of it. I took everything that i saw on the comercials, to no avail.

    1. Hi Jason,

      Would you be able to forward me the research done that attests to crystallization? I’m having difficulty finding anything on PubMed or in any other journal, and am very interested in reading up on this. Unfortunately, the only item I was able to find was an ad from the company, Melaleuca — which sells supplements.

      I am aware that damaged villi in the small intestine will interfere with absorption — which is something seen in people who are unable to tolerate wheat/gluten. The USP, U.S. Pharmacopeia advises choosing supplements that completely disintegrate within 30 to 45 minutes in the body; so how to choose a supplement will be the topic for a future article – thanks!

  2. That is exactly the question I have had for many years. I have been told that there is no substitute for the vitamins which nature provides so taking a pill has always seemed useless to me. And with so many on the market and so many different opinions, I am really lost on the subject. Enjoyed the article, though.

    1. Hi Yvonne,

      Definitely to take a supplement is a personal choice and one that is best researched and discussed with your physician. Surely, the best step is try to improve your diet so that you are meeting nutrient needs from foods. There are a few diet analysis tools that are free and great at helping one recognize nutrient gaps, such as Calorie Count –

  3. Even if you eat a balanced diet, which is hard enough to do, individually we may have genetic propensities that prevent us from absorbing nutrients efficiently. Better to hedge your bets with a multivitamin.

    1. Thanks Clara! I agree that the majority of individuals are hedging their bets. In my opinion, I think we need higher regulation and guidance on supplements. Which multivitamin do you take?

      1. Hi Tabitha, just came across your blog. Some people feel there’s no need for supplements. A couple questions: Why are all our foods “fortified” with vitamins and minerals? Shouldn’t they “naturally” be in there to start? Why do most vegetables/fruits have little flavor? Even organic isn’t always flavorful, like it should be, It’s a fact our soils are depleted of minerals from years of farming. Also a fact vast majority of people don’t eat enough vegetables & fruits. Digestive issues are rapidly rising, obesity, diabetes, heart disease. All results of bad lifestyle choices and poor nutrition. Today supplements are a necessity in my opinion. Not being sick doesn’t mean you’re healthy! Assuming it’s of the highest quality, the key to anything is ability of your body to actually use it. Does info on this link make sense to you?
        After trying dozens of vitamins/companies products for years, I found this to make sense, and actually feel a difference from taking them. Take them=feel better Take others=feel nothing
        In anything we do to improve our health, we want to see and feel results. Results re-enforce what we’re doing. Thank you, enjoy the day!

  4. As a nutritionist, the only supplement I recommend is Vitamin D because I live in Canada and also wear sunscreen when I do get into the sun.

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