Do I Need to Take Vitamin and Mineral Supplements?

You may have read articles on the Internet telling you that supplements only produce “expensive urine” as they have no health benefits, and simply waste your money. But is this statement true? Let’s look at the evidence.

Key takeaways:
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    Vitamins and minerals are called “essential” nutrients for your body.
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    According to studies, today’s fruits and vegetables contain less vitamins and nutrients than comparable to your grandparents’ day.
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    A number of vitamins and minerals can be taken as a supplement to a diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.

The role of vitamins and minerals for your health

Vitamins and minerals are called “essential” nutrients for a good reason. They are essential to your health and you need to have enough of each of them to stay healthy. They perform hundreds of roles in the body.

For example, vitamin B helps the body convert food into energy (metabolism), create new blood cells, maintain healthy skin and support brain health.

Vitamin C supports a healthy immune system and helps make collagen, which is essential for teeth, bone and gut health.

Vitamin D is important for the immune system, muscle, nerves, heart and brain health.

Vitamins A and E have strong antioxidant qualities and are important for eye, skin, hair and heart health.

Minerals like calcium, magnesium and phosphorus are key components of the bones and health and they also support the immune system.

Some minerals like chloride, potassium and sodium act as electrolytes controlling water content, acid-base balance, blood pressure, and nerve functions.

The body cannot manufacture sufficient amounts of these nutrients on its own, and therefore, these have to be obtained from diet. If your diet does not provide enough of them, then taking supplements to fill the gaps would make a lot of sense, right?

Reasons you may benefit from vitamin and mineral supplements

The average diet is less nutritious compared with decades ago

In an ideal world, your diet should provide all the essential vitamins and minerals. This idea is still around, because in the past it was true.

Older generations consumed locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables and prepared the bread and other grain-based foods at home. They also consumed freshly caught fish, quality meats, dairy products and cooking oils from the local farmers. The quality of soil was also better, with an abundance of nutrients needed by the plants to grow.

The quality of the food today is quite different. Due to depletion of soil nutrients and other factors, crops grown today have less vitamins and minerals. Many fruits and vegetables available in groceries are picked before fully ripe to allow time for transportation and stay on the shelves, and thus, their nutrient content is further decreased.

A landmark study from the University of Texas evaluated the nutritional status of 43 different fruits and vegetables comparing data from 1950 and 1999. They found that essential nutrients like iron, phosphorus, vitamins B2 and C and also protein content declined over the decades.

Other studies comparing data from 1975 with 1997 found that the calcium levels dropped in fresh vegetables by 21%, iron levels by 37%, vitamin A by 21% and vitamin C by 30%. You have to eat eight oranges today to get the same amount of vitamin A your grandparents would have gotten from one orange, according to one study.

In addition, modern life also brought highly processed foods on the market, which are high in calories, yet very low in vitamins. These changes in nutrient content are significant and should not be ignored. Taking a multivitamin and multimineral could help fill the nutrient gaps to avoid nutrient deficiencies.

Vitamin D special considerations

Your diet doesn’t contain enough vitamin D. Sure, some foods like dairy products are fortified with vitamin D, but the main source of keeping healthy levels of this nutrient comes from sunlight.

You need about 20 minutes daily exposure to sunlight, with most of the body uncovered and without sunscreen to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D. While older generations spent more time outdoors, most people today spend most of their time indoors. Due to fear of skin cancer, most people also use sunscreen, which blocks the production of vitamin D in the skin.

Unsurprisingly, up to one billion people worldwide have less than optimal levels of vitamin D in in their blood. As foods do not provide enough vitamin D, and sun exposure is decreased, taking vitamin D supplements can help avoid a shortage of this nutrient. Vitamin D blood tests are available to test for this deficiency and a doctor can recommend specific dosages based on these tests.

Many people are at risk to have vitamin and mineral deficiencies

Young children, the elderly, pregnant women, those with chronic illnesses – particularly diabetes and digestive diseases – do not properly absorb the nutrients from foods, even if they consume highly nutritious foods. Many prescription drugs also deplete the body from certain nutrients.

According to the National Institutes of Health, surveys show that many Americans consume less than recommended amounts of magnesium. Deficiencies in vitamin C, vitamin D, B12, folate, and iron are also common in Americans, according to research studies. Again, supplements could be useful to prevent nutrient deficiencies.

How to choose good quality supplements

Not all supplements are created equally and not all supplement brands are rigorously tested.

For this reason, it is important to choose a high quality product from a reputable company that complies with good manufacturing practice (GMP), and are also certified by a third party. For optimal benefits, choose supplements that do not contain artificial flavors, sweeteners or unnecessary fillers.

Some brands of supplements may be a little bit more expensive but are better absorbed and will mention on the label that the ingredients are highly bioavailable.

For example, B1 vitamin in the form of benfotiamine is better absorbed than the commonly used thiamine hydrochloride. Folate, or B9 vitamin is more available to the body's cells in the L-5-MTHF form compared with folic acid found in common brands.

Minerals come in many forms. A highly absorbable formula will have minerals in a chelated form (i.e. magnesium bisglycinate, taurate, theronate).

Try to get as many vitamins and minerals from the foods. Make sure you consume a healthy nutritious diet with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits.

For general health and wellness, a multivitamin and multimineral formula may be enough. However, you need additional single supplements (i.e. iron or vitamin B12 if you have documented anemia caused by iron or vitamin B12 deficiency) because multivitamins and multimineral formulas typically contain low amounts of each nutrient.

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