Do You Need Dietary Vitamins and Supplements?


Vitamins and supplements are big business in the US. According to Statista, retail sales of vitamins and supplements are expected to reach $36 billion dollars in 2017. Per the National Institutes of Health more than 33 percent of Americans take vitamins and supplements. These statistics convey that vitamins and supplements are not only popular in the US, but that American consumers are not shy about spending on them. But are Americans wasting their money or really improving their health?

Potential Benefits of Taking Vitamins and Minerals

Consumers may find themselves in an understandable quandary when it comes to vitamins and minerals. The world is full of sources of information on these products – the Internet, print magazines, books, television programs – and the overall positive messaging compels purchasing them. Yet for all the information in circulation, many individuals may not actually have a solid grasp of the potential benefits of vitamins and supplements.

According to WebMD, it is both necessary and smart to think about vitamins and supplements as helping to fill small gaps in one’s daily diet. In this way, vitamins and supplements can be understood as helping to prevent nutritional deficiencies that can develop into chronic health disorders. The key takeaway here is that vitamins and minerals can pave the path to optimal health but cannot, alone, lead a person there. For instance, most children and adults do not have an adequate amount of vitamin D, calcium, or potassium in their diets. The solution is to consume foods rich in these nutrients (and others) and, as a backup, to take a multivitamin. As a general matter, it may be more advisable to take a multivitamin rather than a vitamin and supplement cocktail to avoid consuming too much or too little of any vitamin.

As Organic Facts explains, a main benefit of vitamins is to help treat and prevent illnesses. To highlight this point, consider a brief list of the benefits associated with the B family of vitamins alone:

  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) has been associated with the treatment of cataracts, various skin disorders, and anemia. It has also been shown to improve functioning of the metabolic, immune, and nervous systems.
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin) may improve feelings of physical weakness and indigestion. It may also help with various skin disorders, high blood pressure, heart disorders, migraine, diabetes, diarrhea, and high blood cholesterol.
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) has been indicted in the treatment of arthritis, various skin disorders, various infections, and high cholesterol.
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxamine) can aid in the reduction of homocysteine levels and help people who are experiencing stress, diabetes, convulsions, severe bleeding during menstruation, insomnia, morning sickness during pregnancy, and travel sickness.
  • Vitamin B7 (biotin) has been involved in the treatment of various skin disorders, can improve metabolic functioning, and boost hair health.
  • Vitamin B9 (folic acid) can provide health benefits to people who are facing indigestion, anemia, abnormal brain growth, sprue, various skin disorders, and gout. This vitamin has also been associated with an increase in red blood cell volume.
  • Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin) has been shown to aid in symptom reduction and side effects associated with pregnancy, smoking, various liver disorders, anemia, ulcers of the mouth, and kidney disorders. In combination with vitamin B6 and folic acid, B12 can help to defend against heart conditions, including strokes.

Even a bird’s-eye view of vitamins and supplements reveals some of the complexities involved in taking them in a way that optimizes their benefits. Vitamins and supplements interact with each other, the body systems, and food in different ways. For this reason, it is helpful to learn more about how to most effectively use vitamins and supplements. To that end, talking to a certified nutritionist is always a great idea. Many health insurance plans cover nutritionist visits. Inquiring with one’s insurance company directly can quickly yield information about coverage terms and local nutritionists.

Spotlight on the Most Common Vitamins and Supplements

The site has helped to shed light on American vitamin intake trends. In one study, they concluded that the following vitamins and supplements are the most commonly used in America: fish oil (a supplement), B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, CoQ10, vitamin D, magnesium, and probiotics (a supplement). Though these vitamins and supplements are popular, it cannot be assumed that everyone who takes them understands their potential benefits and risks.

For this reason, some of the known pros and cons of each listed are discussed below.

  • Fish oil: Typically extracted from oily fish, such as salmon, herring, and tuna, fish oil supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids that the human body cannot produce on its own. Pros associated with taking fish oil include lowering triglycerides, reducing the risk of a fatal heart attack or stroke, easing rheumatoid arthritis, reducing menstrual pain, and helping to avoid macular degeneration (an eye disorder). Cons include unwanted side effect, such as fishy tasting burps, heart burn, bad breath, diarrhea (mild), rash, and nausea. High doses of fish oil can have harmful effects, such as increasing the risk of a stroke and impairing the immune system.
  • B vitamins: The benefits of the B vitamin family are outlined above. However, according to Doctors Health Press, individuals with certain conditions should exercise caution if taking vitamin B12 because of potentially negative interactions. Those conditions include, but may not be limited to, having a stent, Leber’s disease, megaloblastic anemia, hypertension, vitamin or cobalt allergies, and gout.
  • Vitamin C: As WebMD notes, vitamin C is one of the most praised vitamins in existence. The known benefits are numerous and include protecting people from the development of immune system deficiencies, eye disorders, cardiovascular disease, prenatal health problems, cancer, and skin wrinkling. Vitamin C can also reduce stress levels, help to prevent an escalation of flu symptoms once a person has the flu, and lower inflammation levels in the body. There are, however, some potential negatives. For instance, a large dose of vitamin C can cause fatigue, upset stomach, stomach cramps, nausea, indigestion, diarrhea, headaches, and vomiting.
  • Calcium: According to some studies, taking calcium with vitamin D can improve bone health, protect against the development of cancer, and reduce the risk of conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. Calcium intake can have negative effects for some, such as those who have hypercalcemia, a condition that involves a buildup of calcium. Studies in the area of calcium and heart disease, and calcium and prostate cancer, are mixed; high calcium intake may or may not increase the risk of developing these conditions. Further research is required in these areas.
  • CoQ10: This supplement has continually gained popularity even though it is often associated with a higher price tag than the other commonly used vitamins. The cost may be more than justified when the potential benefits are considered. CoQ10 may reduce migraine pain, help to manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, lower blood pressure, help with depression, aid in staving off dementia, and slow the aging process. For some people, taking CoQ10 can be detrimental. This vitamin can lower the effect of certain chemotherapy drugs, lower blood pressure too much (such as when taken with blood pressure medication), and reduce the effectiveness of blood thinners. In addition, people with diabetes should be cautious as CoQ10 can lower blood sugar levels.
  • Vitamin D: Research supports that this vitamin can help to prevent osteoporosis, lower blood pressure, reduce the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, help the elderly to live longer, and protect against heart attack and strokes. In addition, vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium and magnesium into the body. Vitamin D is generally considered safe but high doses can cause a buildup of calcium in the blood.
  • Magnesium: This mineral can be beneficial in many regards, including in preventing osteoporosis, calming nerves, increasing energy, serving as a sleep aid, helping digestion, relieving constipation, regulating levels of calcium and potassium in the body, and relieving muscle spasms and aches. However, if a person consumes too much magnesium, there may be some unwanted side effects, such as an upset stomach, diarrhea, slowed heart rate, low blood pressure, vomiting, cardiac arrest, and even death.
  • Probiotics: These food supplements provide the body with live bacteria that can improve digestive health and even lower blood pressure. They may also help dental healthy by preventing colorectal cancers, cavities, periodontal diseases, halitosis, and additional oral diseases. However, some people may experience abdominal discomfort after taking probiotics, including bloating and gas. There is also a general recommendation to exercise caution because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate probiotics.

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Potential Negatives of Taking Vitamins and Minerals

The site Healthline provides some helpful information about vitamin and supplement use, specifically, how important it is for Americans to evaluate the potential cons. Please note that the following information is not intended to replace medical advice. In fact, it is recommended that a person speak with a doctor before taking vitamins and supplements. A strategy for effectively and safely taking vitamins and minerals is a great topic to discuss during an annual checkup with a primary care doctor.

As Healthline discusses, it is critical for Americans to recognize the potential negatives associated with vitamin and supplement use.

  • A study from the Iowa Women’s Health Study tracked more than 38,000 females, in the 55-and-older age group, for 20 years. One research conclusion related to mortality rates. The researchers found that most vitamin and mineral supplements did not lower the risk of death among the participants over the study years. Looking at specific vitamins, the study noted that calcium supplements were linked to a slightly lower risk of mortality. Iron use, on the other hand, was linked to higher rate of mortality.
  • Some research studies have concluded that taking vitamins and minerals can, in some cases, be more harmful than beneficial. For example, vitamins and minerals can have a negative interaction with a prescription medication.
  • According to a Mayo Clinic research study, using vitamin E supplements may increase the risk of heart failure and premature death. As a result of this study, Mayo Clinic cautions the general public against taking greater than 200 milligrams of vitamin B6 each day. An excessive amount of vitamin B9 can result in nerve pain and even seizures.
  • A National Institutes of Health research study noted that taking too much vitamin A can be bad for one’s bones.

It is helpful for Americans to keep in mind that vitamins and supplements cannot compensate for poor dietary practices. In other words, a diet lacking in nutrients cannot be righted with vitamin and supplement use alone.

According to Mayo Clinic, the following benefits of consuming vegetables, fruits, and grains versus taking supplements alone:

  • Whole foods are superior when it comes to nutrient-richness. Vegetables, fruits, and grains provide a host of complex micronutrients. For example, an orange nourishes the body system with vitamin C, calcium, carotene, and additional nutrients. Further, these vitamins may interact in a way that provides further health benefits.
  • Whole foods provide fiber. In addition to managing constipation, fiber-rich foods can help to prevent certain health conditions, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Whole foods can protect the body from illnesses and disorders. For example, fruits and vegetables contain phytochemicals. These helpful chemicals can protect the body against cancer, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. These foods also pack in antioxidants, which can help to reduce cell and tissue damage in the body.

As the foregoing discussion suggests, it is difficult to talk about vitamins and supplements without also discussing the importance of diet and a healthy lifestyle. The appeal of shortcuts to good health is understandable; however, vitamins and minerals do not provide any such shortcuts since they aren’t enough on their own. The good news is that there is an opportunity to learn about how vitamins and supplements can help Americans meet their daily nutrient needs. Real Simple provides a helpful overview of the nutrient targets Americans should reach on a daily basis.
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