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When and Who Should Take Vitamin and Mineral Supplements?

bottle of multivitamin and mineral supplements with various pills spilled out

Vitamins and minerals play a crucial role in your body. They fulfil the lack of nutrients to ensure it functions properly.

It is not that you must take a supplement to avoid nutrient deficiencies. Vitamins and minerals are not rare substances. You can have all the nutrients your body needs following a balanced diet.

However, sometimes, you may actually need a dietary supplement to maintain your bodily functions. Accordingly, in this article, I want to discuss when these supplements are essential and who needs them.

Are Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Essential for You?

This question has no simple Yes/No answer! It has actually been a hotly debated topic among scientists.

In 2013, five doctors tried to answer this in an editorial published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. After reviewing data from three large-scale clinical trials, they urged people to stop wasting their money on nutritional supplements. They found no clear benefits with the long-term use of supplements. Such intake might even harm healthy adults. They also advised against taking multivitamins to prevent chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. [1]

Fast forward to 2023, those suggestions are still relevant! In fact, a recent systematic review published in JAMA has expanded our understanding of this topic. [2] After reviewing 84 studies, involving 739,803 participants, the authors of this study concluded the following:

  • Vitamin and mineral supplements offer little or no benefits in preventing cancer, heart disease, and death
  • Multivitamin use has a small benefit for cancer incidence
  • Beta carotene use, with or without vitamin A, is linked to an increased risk of lung cancer
  • Other supplements, such as vitamin D and vitamin E, have minimal, equivocal, or absent evidence
  • Some supplements can cause serious harm: vitamin A use may lead to hip fractures, vitamin E to hemorrhagic strokes, and vitamin C and calcium to kidney stones.

Don't get confused! I do not mean that taking dietary supplements has no health benefits. Of course, vitamins and minerals are essential for our body! And several studies do support the use of supplements. So, when should we consider taking them?

When Should You Consider Supplements?

I should note that the authors of the 2013 study made no claims about supplement use in the short term. They have particularly urged against the long-term use of supplements.

Consider taking a nutritional supplement only in instances where it is required. These instances may include certain nutrient deficiencies and medical conditions. Let's take a closer look at who might need dietary supplements.

Should You Take Dietary Supplements?

You are unlikely to need a supplement if you are physically fit and regularly consume healthy, nutritious foods. These may include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, lean meat, and fish. Put simply, you can get all the essential nutrients by following a balanced diet.

Our bodies, in fact, need these substances only in small amounts to maintain our activities of daily living. But if your regular diet can't fulfil your nutrient needs, you may take a nutritional supplement.

Who Needs Dietary Supplements?

According to Health Canada's eating recommendations, some people may need a supplement containing vitamins B12, vitamin D, iron, calcium, and zinc. [3, 4] These individuals include those who:

  1. Consume less than 1,600 calories per day 🥗
  2. Follow a strict vegetarian or vegan diet 🌱
  3. Have limited variety in their meals 🍽️
  4. Avoid animal products like milk, meat, and eggs 🥚

Apart form these individuals, a multivitamin-mineral supplement may also benefit the following people:

  • Children and teenagers: Require a variety of nutrients for growth and development. Consult a pediatrician for the right supplement recommendations.

  • Athletes: High-intensity physical activity may increase the need for certain nutrients like iron, vitamin C, and antioxidants. Athletes should consult with a sports dietitian to balance their nutritional needs.

  • Diabetics: May benefit from taking supplements with specific nutrients like chromium, magnesium, and vitamin D. Consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

When to Take Vitamin and Mineral Supplements?

  • When following a restricted diet: Vegans, vegetarians, or those with food allergies may need supplements to ensure they're getting enough essential nutrients.

  • Being women: women typically require more vitamins and minerals than men. Women at their childbearing age should eat iron-rich foods (like meats, beans, or spinach) or a supplement to overcome heavy bleeding during the menstrual period.

  • During pregnancy: Pregnant or planning to become pregnant women should consume fortified foods or supplements containing synthetic folic acid to support the growth of their unborn child and prevent birth defects. They should also consume a diet rich in calcium, iron, and folate.

  • As we age: Ageing is another factor that makes our bodies deficient in specific nutrients. People over the age of 50 years often have a 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 recommends that aged individuals consume fortified foods or a supplement containing these vitamins.

Do I need to Consult a Health Professional Before Taking Supplements? 🩺

Yes, you should! Your doctor can guide you in making the best decision for your body's unique needs. They will also make sure you're taking the right dosage. In fact, a personalized approach can help you reap the full benefits of supplements without undue side effects.

Additional Tips for Choosing Supplements Wisely

  1. Quality matters: Choose brands that have undergone third-party testing and certification. By doing this, you can be sure that the supplement's quality is up to the mark.

  2. Follow the recommended dosage: Supplement overdose can lead to potential health risks. Stick to the recommended dosage provided by your doctor or on the product label.

  3. Read labels carefully: Buy supplements free of artificial additives, fillers, and allergens. Also, check the expiry dates to ensure the product's quality.

  4. Track your progress: Keep a log of your supplement usage and note any changes in your health. This will help your doctor to assess the need for the supplement and make changes, if needed.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, supplements can be helpful in certain cases. However, they shouldn't replace a balanced diet. If you're considering supplements, consult a healthcare professional. They can help you take the right decision depending on your body's needs.

Medical References

  1. 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
  2. O’Connor EA, Evans CV, Ivlev I, Rushkin MC, Thomas RG, Martin A, Lin JS. Vitamin and mineral supplements for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer: updated evidence report and systematic review for the US Preventive Services Task Force. Jama. 2022 Jun 21;327(23):2334-47.
  3. Slater JJ, Mudryj AN. Are we really “eating well with Canada’s food guide”?. BMC Public Health. 2018 Dec;18:1-7.
  4. Brassard D, Elvidge Munene LA, St-Pierre S, Guenther PM, Kirkpatrick SI, Slater J, Lemieux S, Jessri M, Haines J, Prowse R, Olstad DL. Development of the Healthy Eating Food Index (HEFI)-2019 measuring adherence to Canada’s Food Guide 2019 recommendations on healthy food choices. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. 2022;47(5):595-610.
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⚠️ Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. Please consult a healthcare professional for personalized advice.