What could be simpler than the conventional wisdom that has been hammered into us since our early childhood? Take Your Vitamins! It seems simple enough. Many of us were raised with parents who made us swallow a vitamin after breakfast. Often, as children, vitamins are given that look and taste like candy to make them more palatable to reluctant children. For many of us, the wisdom seems to have stuck. A recent Gallup poll found that roughly half of Americans take a multivitamin or dietary supplement.
Unfortunately, the question of what vitamins to take and which not to take has gotten a lot more convoluted and confusing than it once seemed. A 2018 study suggested that many of the most commonly taken multivitamins provided no discernible health benefit. The study's lead author, Dr. David Jenkins, summarized the findings by saying: “ We were surprised to find so few positive effects of the most common supplements that people consume. Our review found that if you want to use multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, or vitamin C, it does no harm -- but there is no apparent advantage either." Elsewhere in the same study, folic acid and B vitamins with folic acid were found to reduce the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke!
It is no wonder why so many Americans now are legitimately wondering what used to seem a simple question: What vitamins should I take? Half of Americans have been doing their part and taking their vitamins. We aim to help you answer exactly which ones you should be taking. Bear in mind to always consult a physician about which vitamins and supplements you take and to consider any specific deficiencies or excesses of vitamins you may personally have.
Use Due Diligence When Shopping For Vitamins
Not all vitamins are created equal. Though vitamins and supplements may look similar to other medications, they are regulated very differently. Vitamins, unlike prescription medications, can make claims and be sold on shelves without having those claims verified by anyone, so always be sure to trust but verify. One of the primary differences is that the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the contents of vitamins. This means using private methods of verification and trusted brands when shopping for vitamins is just as essential as knowing which ones you should be taking. Before starting a vitamin or supplement, it is best to consult your healthcare professional and even better if you can get nutrient testing done to identify and specific deficiencies.
Even though most vitamins are perfectly harmless, there are a few potentially harmful interactions that anyone taking vitamins should be aware of:
- High doses of beta-carotene may increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers
- Too much calcium and vitamin D may increase the risk of kidney stones
- Too much Vitamin E can lead to stroke and bleeding in the brain
- Vitamin K can interfere with the anti-clotting mechanism of blood-thinning medications
- Too much Vitamin B6 can lead to nerve damage and even impair basic body movement.
Helpful Vitamins Vary Greatly By Individual Needs
The most important determinant of what vitamins would be most beneficial to you depends on your demographic and age information. The nutritional needs of men and women, for example, are very different, as are the needs of the elderly versus a teenager. Many people may start by looking for trusted vitamin brands that cater to whatever specific group you may be a part of. For example, Gem Vitamins designs supplements and products specifically tailored to the needs of younger women. It is One-A-Day for men and is designed for men approaching their senior years. These can be a good place to start for basic deficiencies that are common across the population. However, if you have a unique diet or pre-existing health conditions, then it is likely a more custom-tailored approach under the advisement of a physician would be the best course.
Tiffany Lester, MD at Parsley Health puts it this way, “Most individuals benefit from specific nutrients found in vitamins yet have no idea what to actually take." The doctor recommends consulting a physician or healthcare provider and taking a micronutrient test to definitively get the answer of what vitamins you should, or shouldn’t be taking. This is because the question of which vitamins any one person should take could have very different answers depending on their underlying health, diet, and pre-existing conditions. Most doctors agree that nearly anyone, no matter how pristine and healthy their balanced diet is, could benefit from a vitamin or supplement. The modern food supply chain makes it difficult to attain all our needed nutrients through much of the processed foods we eat. However, there is, unfortunately, no universal regiment that everyone should take as far as vitamins go.
For example, someone who is following a vegan or vegetarian diet would have completely different needs in terms of vitamins and supplements, then someone who is not. A pregnant female will require certain vitamins to assist with her pregnancy that will not be helpful to others. Diet, lifestyle, and genetics all contribute to a person’s individual nutritional needs.
Which Common Vitamins and Minerals Are Taken For What Symptoms?
Despite the recent controversy surrounding common multivitamins and supplements, they do have use and provide benefits. It is just a matter of determining with your healthcare professional, which particular nutritional deficiencies need to be addressed. The following is a list of some of the most common vitamins, and supplements are taken by Americans and what their uses are:
- Vitamin D: This vitamin is not as common in food as some others. This vitamin can be produced naturally by spending time in the sun. However, it is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies found particularly in those who may spend long hours working inside, or may live in areas where there is less year-round sunlight. So, taking a vitamin d supplement is very helpful. This vitamin helps promote bone health by helping bones absorb calcium and stay strong.
- Vitamin B3: This vitamin is also commonly known as Niacin. This vitamin is found to help with maintaining healthy skin, nervous system health, and digestion. Many women who have been taking birth control for a long time may develop a deficiency of B vitamins. Supplements of Niacin may be helpful for these individuals.
- Vitamin B12: This important vitamin is essential to the health of nerve tissue, brain functioning, and the production of red blood cells. About 5% to 15% of Americans have a vitamin B12 deficiency (1). Vegans and vegetarians may benefit from this supplement as it is commonly found in meat.
- Vitamin C: While it is commonly known as an immune-booster, there is limited evidence to support this conclusion. Eating citrus will convey the same benefits, and if you have a cold, taking Zinc is a more effective remedy for treating its symptoms.
- Zinc: This common mineral was found in a study to significantly mitigate the length and severity of common cold symptoms (2). People commonly take this supplement to boost immune system health.
- Folic Acid: This is a vitamin from the B family. It has an important role in the formation of new cells. This property makes it a highly recommended vitamin for pregnant women. A study also found that this supplement may help reduce birth defects (3).
- Multivitamins: This is where recent scientific literature has found the most dubious results. The American College of Cardiology found that multivitamins did not provide any additional protection against cardiovascular disease. Doctors generally advise taking a tailored approach to your own nutrition, relying on tests to identify your specific needs rather than relying on the boiler-plate approach of multivitamins.
Can Vitamins and Minerals Help Me?
Vitamins can help almost anyone supplement their diet and fill gaps; they may not be getting in their typical daily intake. Most people don’t know what to take, so they should ask for help! However, there is no substitute for a healthy diet and lifestyle, and vitamins will enhance these components, not replace them. Vitamins should not be used to treat or cure any illness as they are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to do so. This means consumers do assume a higher level of risk of being exposed to contaminants or receiving products that are inaccurately labeled. It is always recommended to consult medical professionals in any major decision that affects your health.
Vitamin vendors can be evaluated and rated on the internet. Check customer reviews and the company website to see if the company's materials pass the initial test of credibility. Vitamin supplements are most useful for people with an underlying deficiency or restricted diet. If you have a balanced and healthy diet, it is unlikely that you need to take a multivitamin unless you have another underlying condition. Vitamins are not a cure for anything and should be used to supplement an already robust health and wellness routine. Don't be a sheep and take a useless vitamin. Do the work and find out the right kind of vitamin that can give you the most benefit.