Supplements and vitamins can be extremely helpful in our quest to develop healthier bodies and live and overall healthier life.
What is a vitamin and mineral supplement?
A vitamin and mineral supplement provides a variety of nutrients that are also found in foods. These supplements are often called multivitamins. They come in tablet, chewable tablet, powder and liquid form.
A standard multivitamin usually contains:
Water-soluble vitamins. These vitamins enter and leave the body easily. Most do not accumulate in the body’s cells. Water-soluble vitamins include vitamin C and B-complex vitamins: thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, biotin, folic acid, and vitamin B12.
Fat-soluble (liposoluble) vitamins. These vitamins are stored in body cells and do not leave the body as easily as water-soluble vitamins do. Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Minerals. These include calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc.
Some multivitamins also contain other ingredients that are not vitamins or minerals. These include substances such as the antioxidants lutein and lycopene.
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Why take a supplement?
The best way to get the vitamins and minerals you need is to eat a wide variety of healthy foods. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend fruits, vegetables, whole grains, milk and dairy products, and fish as part of a nutritious meal plan. A supplement cannot compensate for poor eating habits. But sometimes even people with healthy eating habits find it hard to eat all the fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods they need. A supplement can help make up for deficiencies.
Some people are more likely to need a supplement. These include:
- People who eat a calorie-restricted diet that doesn’t offer enough vitamins and minerals.
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- People who are sick, injured, or recovering from surgery.
- Babies, especially to make sure they are getting adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D.
- People who cannot or do not want to eat a variety of foods, such as people who have food allergies or those who follow a vegetarian diet.
What about supplements that are labeled for certain people (such as women or the elderly)?
Many supplements are advertised as specially designed for men or women or for certain age groups. A standard multivitamin is appropriate for most people taking a supplement. But some people prefer to take a supplement that is made for their gender or age group.
Types of specialized supplements include:
Formulas for women. Supplements for women have extra iron. This is because women who still have menstrual periods need more iron than men. But after menopause , women’s iron needs are the same as those of men. Some formulas for women also contain additional calcium, since women are more likely to have osteoporosis than men.
Formulas for men. These have a lower iron content, since men need less iron than women.
Formulas for older adults. These are made for older adults and tend to have less iron and vitamin K, and more vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
Prenatal formulas. Prenatal formulas are made for women who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding. Supplements have extra folic acid and iron. Folic acid is especially important because it can help prevent certain birth defects, especially neural tube birth defects . Sometimes these supplements also have more calcium.
What should you look for when choosing a supplement?
Choose one that gives you a variety of vitamins and minerals (a multivitamin) rather than a supplement that gives you a single vitamin or mineral (unless your doctor has recommended taking a single vitamin or mineral).
Choose the one that, along with the foods you eat, provides the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for each vitamin and mineral. Supplements that provide much more than the RDA can cause health problems. This is especially important for minerals and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. They are more easily stored in the body, and can build up to dangerous levels.
Check the expiration date. Do not buy supplements that are or will expire before you can finish the bottle.
If the supplement bears the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) seal, the supplement has been tested and contains the amounts of vitamins and minerals listed on the label.
Check the label for other ingredients. Some supplements may contain food ingredients, such as wheat, corn, eggs, or gelatin. If you have a food allergy or are sensitive to these foods, look for supplements that do not have these ingredients.
What should you look for?
When thinking about buying a dietary supplement, be sure to check the claims made by the manufacturers. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements in the same way it regulates medications. This means that supplements can be sold without research into how well, or even whether, they work.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
A generic brand (or store brand) usually works as well as a brand name supplement. Look for generic brands that contain the same amount of vitamins and minerals as brand-name ones.
Most man-made vitamins (synthetic) are as good as natural vitamins.
No supplement has been shown to cure diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease or digestive problems. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Beware of supplements that promise quick and dramatic results.