Do I Have to Take Vitamins, Minerals and Nutritional Supplements?
Unless you have blood tests to check the levels of vitamins and minerals present in your body, knowing which supplements you actually need can be tricky. But there are general guidelines that have been established for certain groups of people, based on research. So if you (or your children) fall into one of these groups, you may want to assess your need for nutritional supplements:
Infants and children
Infants breast-fed by healthy mothers usually receive enough vitamins. In some cases, however, vitamins K and D can be deficient. Mother's milk has low levels of vitamin K, and a newborn baby's intestinal tract may not produce enough of it. This is why most babies are given an injection of vitamin K right after being born.
Infants breast-fed by malnourished women or by those who don't get enough sunlight may be vitamin D-deficient. Under these circumstances, supplements with 200-300 IU of vitamin D are recommended. Store-bought formulas are required by law to have the right mix of vitamins and minerals. This is because there is at least one study that suggests that if infants are given vitamin supplements, it may keep them from developing Type I diabetes later on.
It's important to note that most children's daily diets -- even the portion they get from school cafeterias -- are filled with chemicals, processed foods and sugar. This can cause sleepiness and the inability to concentrate, along with a variety of possible long-term problems, including juvenile diabetes and dental cavities. For this reason, it's critical that children get plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and a wide variety of nutritious foods. If they do, they shouldn't require supplementation.
It's also important that they drink plenty of water to keep their bodily systems running smoothly and their teeth clean. As an adjunct to this, they should be taught how to brush their teeth properly and floss, have regular dental check-ups and have access to whatever dental supplies they need to keep their mouths healthy. In extreme circumstances, dental problems can trigger other serious physical problems, so caring for children's teeth isn't just about keeping them white. But today's electric toothbrushes come in kid-friendly cartoon designs, so brushing can be fun with a little encouragement from you.
Smoking blocks absorption of a number of vitamins and other nutrients, folic acid and vitamin C being chief among them. When high doses of antioxidant vitamins are taken by smokers, however, they can actually be harmful This is especially true with beta-carotene. So instead of taking supplements, smokers should instead focus on having diets rich in fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains. And it goes without saying that it would help to stop smoking. But some people just enjoy it way too much to quit, so at the very least extra attention should be paid to giving the body nutrition that will support it.
Alcoholics often have many vitamin deficiencies. The most dangerous are deficiencies of vitamin C, vitamin B1 (thiamin), folic acid, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) and vitamin B2 (riboflavin). It's also important to address the problems that are causing you to drink. If you feel you have a substance abuse problem of any kind, check out this directory of drug rehab centers to find a resource that can help you heal.
Deficiencies of vitamins and minerals have been seen in almost one-third of the elderly, because they often don't eat regular, balanced meals. And, unfortunately, the diverse drugs that are often prescribed for older people help prevent absorption of some vitamins. Vitamin D deficiencies are common, particularly in those who don't get enough sunlight. The elderly also may have need for more vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and folic acid. Older adults showing signs of dementia should be checked for vitamin B12 deficiencies, as well as other disorders that cause mental disturbances.
One study reported that elderly immune systems may benefit from higher than usually recommended doses of vitamin E. But it's important to be aware that metabolism generally slows down as people age, so it can take longer to flush drugs and vitamins from the body. This means that the effect of some supplements may be intensified. For example, vitamin A levels harmless in a younger adult could end up being toxic in an elderly person. In spite of this, experts do recommend extra vitamins and minerals for older people.
Dieters and vegetarians
It's a good idea for people who eat fewer than 1,000 calories a day to take multivitamins. They should also check in with a physician regularly. If they don't eat dairy or meat, they may need riboflavin, vitamin D and vitamin B12 supplements. If they eat eggs and dairy products, they only have to watch their iron levels to guard against hair loss and other problems caused by iron deficiency.
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Pregnant and breast-feeding women
There are so many things to do during pregnancy, some women may not realize that they need additional vitamins. The B vitamins are particularly important at this time of their lives. Folic acid reduces the risk for neural tube defects and facial abnormalities, such as cleft palate. Multivitamins also may protect from some congenital heart defects. To be effective, though, both multivitamins and folic acid should be taken before pregnancy. Before conception and during pregnancy, the RDA for folic acid is 400 mcg. A dosage of 260 and 280 mcg is recommended while breast-feeding though. Vitamin B6 can help with morning sickness, and choline (another B vitamin) is also important; 450 mg is recommended during pregnancy and 550 should be taken when breast-feeding.
Some pregnant women have low reserves of vitamin A, but supplementation to correct that can be a fine line, because too much vitamin A will significantly increase the potential for birth defects. Even amounts of 10,000 IU of vitamin A that are obtained daily through supplementation and food can be dangerous, even though that amount isn't too far above the RDA level. this is why experts recommend pregnant women don't exceed 8,000 IU of vitamin A every day and stay away from eating liver.
For more information on vitamins, read these in-depth fact sheets:
Know When to Say When
Can too much of a good thing be a bad thing? With some vitamin supplements, yes. Taking megadoses of certain vitamins can actually endanger your health by causing the following:
Vitamin A: blurred vision, headaches, fatigue, damage to liver and nervous system
Vitamin D: kidney stones, high blood pressure, deafness
Vitamin K: skin yellowing in infants
Vitamin B3 (Niacin): ulcers, abnormal liver function
Vitamin B6: high doses produce dependency
Vitamin C: high doses cause dependency, diarrhea
Please note: The information on this page is not meant to take the place of professional recommendations. See your doctor or a nutritionist to determine the supplements that are right for you.
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