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Vitamins: To Supplement or Not to Supplement

Updated on October 22, 2012

Vitamins Are Not a Subsitute for Food

Both individual vitamin supplements and multivitamins serve their purpose for those people whose dietary intake fails to provide adequate vitamins and minerals on a regular basis and for individuals who have conditions or diseases that require supplementation of their diets.

But why not just play it safe and take a multivitamin or individual vitamin supplements? Why, instead of concerning yourself with a nutritionally balanced diet, not just pop a pill or two? The truth is, plenty of people do just that.

There are two main reasons why opting for the easy way out when it comes to vitamins and minerals may not be in your best interest:

1.) Some vitamins, particularly the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, are stored within your body and taking too much of them can lead to toxicity. This can also be true for some minerals and electrolytes.

2.) Dietary supplements don't provide the other benefits that come from eating a nutritionally balanced diet such as fiber, phytonutrients, and antioxidants.

World War II poster advocating need to eat vitamin A-rich foods.
World War II poster advocating need to eat vitamin A-rich foods. | Source

Supplements Versus Diet

It seems easy enough: Go to any big box or drug store and choose one of the many multivitamin supplements on the shelf. These days, there are multivitamins for men, women, seniors, heart health, prenatal period and bone strength from which to choose. Pick one, take it home, pop one daily and good health will come your way.

For some people, a daily multivitamin might be necessary to supplement their daily diet. For many people, the same supplement may be too much of a good thing.

Sometimes, there is no definitive answer as the advocates of vitamin supplementation debate with advocates of balanced nutrition through diet. A review of some of the latest research of both science and medical experts may aid you in your decision-making in this area.

Do Vitamin Supplements Work?

Who Should Take Vitamin Supplements?

According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, there are four specific situations that may call for vitamin supplementation:

1.) Women who may become pregnant need to either eat foods fortified with 400 micrograms per day of folic acid or obtain the nutrient through a dietary supplement.

2.) Pregnant women should take a prenatal vitamin that includes iron or take a separate iron supplement.

3.) People over the age of 50 need to eat foods fortified with vitamin B12 or as a dietary supplement.

4.) Older adults, people with dark skin, and people who get little sun exposure to their skin should eat foods fortified with vitamin D or as a dietary supplement.

Before beginning to take any vitamin or dietary supplement, you should talk it over with your health care provider. If you're already taking vitamins and/or other dietary supplements, be sure to share that information with your health care provider.

Vitamins and Supplements

Should Children Take a Daily Multivitamin?

Other Situations When a Vitamin Supplement Might Be Warranted

The National Institutes of Health and the Mayo Clinic advise that there are additional situations where you might benefit from taking a multivitamin or individual vitamins to supplement your diet. Again, it is important that you discuss these options with your health care provider to get advice and to learn if your particular health condition warrants caution with the use of dietary supplements.

Situations where you may want to consider vitamin supplementation:

1.) You follow a calorie-restricted diet less than 1600 calories per day or generally don't eat well.

2.) You are a vegan or vegetarian.

3.) You eat fewer than two meals per day.

4.) You have lost or gained 10 pounds in the last six months without trying to.

5.) You eat a diet that's restricted in any one food group or you eat fewer than five servings a day of fruits and vegetables.

6.) You drink three or more alcoholic drinks daily.

7.) You take three or more prescription medications or over-the-counter medications daily.

8.) You eat alone.

9.) You are a woman who experiences heavy menstrual bleeding.

10.) You have had surgery on your digestive tract or stomach that decreases your body's ability to digest and/or absorb food and nutrients or a medical condition that does the same.


Dr. Mehmet Oz on Basic Vitamin Supplement Recommendations

Can Multivitamin Supplements Prevent Disease?

Update 10/22/2012: The Journal of the American Medical Association recently published the results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study with more than 14,000 participants. The participants were followed from 1997 through June 2011 for the results of taking either a daily multivitamin or placebo on the effects of developing all types of cancer, except non-melanoma skin cancer.

At the conclusion of the study and examination of the data, the researchers determined that the use of a daily multivitamin in men age 50 or over "modestly but significantly reduced the risk of total cancer."

The study, performed in the most respected scientific method, doesn't indicate that multivitamin supplementation will prevent all disease, but it does point out the benefits of these agents toward prevention of total cancers in men age 50 and above.

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    • L.L. Woodard profile image
      Author

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Healthylife2, even though I am choosing to eat healthier these days by roughly following a Mediterranean-style diet, I supplement with a good multivitamin daily.

      I agree with your assessment that vitamins and vitamin supplements should be in addition to nutritious eating and not instead of.

      Thanks for reading, commenting, voting and Sharing.

    • healthylife2 profile image

      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Very informative hub! I definitely believe in taking vitamins and supplements because I think it's impossible to know if you are getting exactly the right amount of all nutrients from food. However, I think they should be viewed as a supplement rather than a substitute for good nutrition. Voted up and shared!

    • L.L. Woodard profile image
      Author

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      SGBrown, you're right on both scores -- even though many of us know what a balanced diet is all about, life moves at the speed of lightning so often that knowing and doing are two different things.

      Vitamin supplements have their place, and used wisely, help to promote and maintain good health.

      Thanks for stopping by and Sharing.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      A balanced diet is much better for us, but not very many people take the time to eat right these days. Vitamin supplements can be useful, you just need to know what you are doing. Great hub with very useful information. Voted up and sharing! Have a great day! :)

    • L.L. Woodard profile image
      Author

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Brett, you're right. Life gets in the way sometimes and doesn't always allow for healthy, balanced food choices every day. Vitamin supplements have their place in promoting good health; people just need to be aware that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

      Thanks for SHARING.

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 5 years ago from Thailand

      I agree with what you are saying, a balanced diet is better. Sometimes life doesn't always allow for this though, so then a multivitamin every couple of days is better than not getting what you need ... a tricky balance.

      SOCIALLY SHARED and voted.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image
      Author

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      You are most welcome.

    • plussize-lingerie profile image

      David Taylor 5 years ago from UK

      Ah, yes, I'd wondered if it was simply that we don't seem to eat as well when we're just feeding ourselves. It's easily done.

      Thanks for the explanation.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image
      Author

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Plussize-lingerie, I believe that some people who eat alone do not eat as balanced a diet, or with the same variety of foods, as people who eat with at least one other person. This isn't always the case, but an area of consideration for taking a vitamin supplement.

      Thanks for your question and the read.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image
      Author

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      SGBrown, you're right, it can be challenging to eat a balanced enough diet to obtain the needed amounts of vitamins. I don't think there is anything wrong with vitamin supplementation as long as it is done wisely.

      I appreciate your input.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image
      Author

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Snurre, it's certainly preferable to get your needed vitamins through food because then you are not only getting the benefit of the vitamins, but many other nutrients too.

      I appreciate your input and thanks for SHARING.

    • plussize-lingerie profile image

      David Taylor 5 years ago from UK

      Can I ask, why "if you eat alone"?

      Interesting hub though, thanks to SGBrown for sharing.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      People are so busy these days, we are not eating like we should. Too much fast food, not enough home grown food. I try to feed my family a balanced diet, but we always supplemnt with some vitamins. In a perfect world, we shouldn't have to, but we know this is not a perfect world. :) Excellent hub! Voted up and sharing! :)

    • Snurre profile image

      Snurre 5 years ago

      Good article. Personally, I try to include all the necessary vitamins in my diet and only use supplements at the end of winter.

      Thanks for SHARING

    • L.L. Woodard profile image
      Author

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      BlissfulWriter, appreciate the additional information.

    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 5 years ago

      Vitamin A is one fat-soluble vitamin that one has to be careful not to take too much. Better to take beta carotene which is a precursor to vitamin A, and then let the body use that to make the amount of vitamin A that it needs on its own.

      Another is iron which one should not take too much if at all.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image
      Author

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Manna in the wild, I think vitamin supplements have their place, but if you are a healthy person eating a varied, nutritious diet you may not find any benefit from the supplements. I think that many people do not realize it is possible to take too much of a good thing, particularly the fat soluble vitamins.

    • Manna in the wild profile image

      Manna in the wild 5 years ago from Australia

      Voted up and useful because this is good advice. I tend to think that vitamin supplements are usually a big waste of money.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image
      Author

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      BlissfulWriter, I take a multivitamin daily, mostly because my diet doesn't yet include as much fruits and vegetables as I ought to be eating.

    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 5 years ago

      Yes, I believe in taking vitamins and supplements and take them myself.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image
      Author

      L.L. Woodard 5 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Prasetio, thanks for stopping by and the rating. I agree with you, vitamins are important to our bodies. It's just important not to get too much of even a good thing.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Very informative hub. I just wanna say that our body need vitamin. Thanks for writing and share with us. Rated up!

      Prasetio