Vitamins: Do They Really Help?
Odds are you’ve been taking vitamins since clever ads convinced your mom that Flintstone chewable multivitamins were a good way to slip you a daily dose of nutrients. But even if the jingle was catchy, did those vitamins really help you grow? Perhaps more importantly, should you–or your family– be taking vitamin supplements on a daily basis? And if you decide that you need an extra vitamin boost, there are now vitamins for almost every imaginable need. Do any work or are they a waste of time and money? It’s not surprising many of us are confused.
Nutritionists and medical doctors agree that a balanced, nutritious diet is the best approach to getting vitamins, and organizations like the American Heart Association  say there isn’t sufficient evidence to show healthy people can benefit by taking vitamins or mineral supplements in excess of the daily recommended allowance. According to an article on WebMD  , three studies show “…that a daily multivitamin won’t help boost the average American’s health…” In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic  “…if you’re a pretty healthy person with a well-balanced diet containing a wide variety of foods — including fruits, vegetables, reduced-fat dairy products, whole grains, legumes, lean meats and fish — you most likely don’t need supplements. Talk to your health care team and dietitian if you have questions or concerns about supplements.”
But everyone has different needs–and eats a different diet– so if you decide you want to add a supplement to your daily regimen, remember your body also needs the nutrients and other substances in food to be healthy. And it’s important to talk with a nutrition or medical professional who can help you decide what is best for you.
Which ones make sense?
A quick look at just five common supplements shows why it’s best to ask a professional before you start adding vitamins to your diet. (Harvard Health publishes a useful guide to how particular vitamins and minerals work in your body, how much of each nutrient you need every day, and what types of food to eat to ensure that you are getting an adequate supply.)
Calcium & Vitamin D
Many medical doctors recommend that women take a calcium supplement, paired with vitamin D for absorption, to maintain healthy bones and prevent osteoporosis. Because it is possible to overdose on D, have your levels checked and ask a health professional for advice on how much to take.
Try to get iron from your food (lean meats, seafood, nuts, and green, leafy vegetables.) But, you may need a supplement if your doctor finds you are anemic or if you are pregnant. It is important to be tested before adding an iron supplement.
It’s fairly easy to get enough vitamin C in your diet by eating fruits and vegetables. However, smokers or those exposed to secondhand smoke, might want to consider taking a C supplement. Interestingly, there isn’t evidence that extra vitamin C helps you avoid a cold or get over the sniffles faster.
Experts used to think extra vitamin E could lower the risk of heart disease, cancer and stroke, but today the advice is to stick to foods rich in vitamin E (eggs, healthy oils, green, leafy vegetables, etc.)