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When to Take Vitamin and Mineral Supplements?

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Nutritional or vitamin supplements play an important role for the human body. They fulfill the lack of nutrients and thereby help the body to work properly.

However, it's not that you must essentially take a supplement to avoid unwanted nutritional deficiencies. Vitamins and minerals are not rare substances. A healthy diet is enriched with all the micronutrients required for optimum functioning of your body. But, for some reasons, your body may need an additional supplement to help regulate its functions. Accordingly, in this article, I want to discuss when these supplements are essential and who actually needs them.

Are Nutritional or Vitamin Supplements Really Essential for You?

Today, more than 50% population in the United States use multivitamins, daily or on occasion, to improve body functions. Many even believe regular intake of dietary supplements can provide numerous health benefits. But, are those supplements really beneficial in the long run?

Well, the question may seem an easy one to anyone, but the answer is not so simple. In recent years, there has been much debate regarding the question. A new editorial by five doctors published December 17, 2013, in the Annals of Internal Medicine urged that public should stop wasting money on nutritional supplements. The authors addressed three large clinical trial data in that issue. Based on the results of those studies, they concluded that long-term nutritional supplementation have no clear beneficial effects, might even be harmful for healthy adults, and should not be consumed in preventing chronic diseases like cancer or cardiovascular disease.

However, don't think vitamin and mineral supplements have no health benefits. Micronutrients are essential for our body; a number of studies support use of dietary supplements.

No doubt, it could be a bit confusing for you to decide whether to consume a supplement or not. But, I need to mention that the authors of the editorial didn't write any remarks on short-term supplementation of vitamins and minerals. They have particularly urged on long-term use of supplements. So, it is now more evident that high levels of multivitamin supplementation have no clear advantageous effects in the long run.

Therefore, you should take a nutritional supplement, but only in instances it is required. These instances may include certain nutritional or vitamin deficiencies and medical conditions.

Who Needs Dietary Supplements?

If you are a healthy individual and eat a variety of nutritional foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, milk, eggs, lean meat, fish etc., then you do not need an additional supplement. You can get all the essential nutrients just by following a healthy, balanced diet. In fact, our body needs these substances only in small amounts to maintain our usual activity. However, if you lack in the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of vitamins and minerals from your regular food sources, a nutritional supplement may help.

According to Canada’s Food Guide recommendations, individuals who eat less than 1,600 calories each day or are pure vegetarians, only consume meals with limited variations and avoid animal products like milk, meats, eggs, and cheeses, may need a supplement containing vitamins B12, vitamin D, iron, calcium, and zinc.

Several vitamins and minerals are more recommended for women than men require. Women who are in their childbearing age should eat iron-rich foods (like meats, beans, or spinach) or a supplement to overcome heavy bleeding during the menstrual period. In addition, women who are pregnant or may become pregnant should consume fortified foods or supplements containing synthetic folic acid together with a diet rich in folate to avoid birth defects.

Aging is also another big factor for making our body deficient in nutrients. People over age 50 often have reduced ability to absorb vitamin B12 from their regular food sources. Also, dark skin and insufficient exposure to sunlight may cause vitamin D deficiency in older adults. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans has therefore recommended aged people to consume either fortified foods or a supplement containing these vitamins.


Eliseo Guallar, Saverio Stranges, Cynthia Mulrow, Lawrence J. Appel, & Edgar R. Miller III (2013). Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Annals of Internal Medicine, 159 (12), 850-851 DOI: 10.7326/0003-4819-159-12-201312170-00011

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