Vitamins are essential organic molecules that your body needs in small quantities to develop and function properly. You get them mostly from the food you eat since your body is not capable of producing these micronutrients and other dietary minerals on its own. Insufficient amounts of vitamins and nutrients may cause your body to become susceptible to diseases, while excessive quantities may jeopardise your health.
Micronutrients and More
The 13 micronutrients vital to your body’s growth and performance are vitamins A, C, D, E and K, including the eight different B vitamins. Among these, the fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E and K, which dissolve in fats and oils after you absorb them from the foods you eat. These are then retained in your fatty tissues as nutrient reserves for future use. Vitamin C and all the B vitamins are water-soluble so they easily get flushed out of your system, therefore, you need to have a regular supply of these in your body.
Apart from the 13 essential vitamins, organic compounds such as fatty acids and amino acids are nutrients that also carry out important functions in your body, and are obtained from external sources as well.
A balanced diet should be able to give you all the vitamins your body needs. However, some nutrients may be lost or diminished due to food storage and preparation. It is also possible that your food consumption simply falls short of your body’s daily nutritional requirements. This is where vitamin supplements come in.
Supplements Spelled Out and Scrutinised
Generally, a dietary supplement is a pharmaceutical preparation containing a single vitamin, mineral or a combination of several vitamins and minerals (e.g. multivitamins), which may include other additives intended to enhance your nutrition. Supplements are available in tablets, capsules, chewable gummies, powders, liquids and injectables.
While vitamin supplements are widely used, there is still very little proof of the positive effects they supposedly have on your health. Experts in the field speculate that people take vitamins as an added precaution to ensure their daily nutritional requirements are met or owing to a likely placebo effect. As a matter of fact, vitamin supplements are not even regulated by the FDA, which has also become a cause for major concern. There is no guarantee that these supplements can live up to their claims or that they are toxin-free.
What Studies Say About Supplements
While many believe that vitamin supplements help reduce the risk of having diseases and health issues, evidence that point to this is sparse and varied.
A research by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology published online in May 2018 revealed that the four most popular supplements—multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin C—did not prevent heart disease, while an earlier study showed that taking a multivitamin for a minimum of three years was associated with a 35% reduction in cardiovascular disease mortality among women (but not men).
Effects of taking vitamin supplements on the probability of developing cancer also take on disparate opinions.
Data from several controlled trials that assessed the effects of vitamin supplements on cancer prevention showed no impact on participants, whereas other studies have found a connection between supplement intake and increased vulnerability to cancer. Another series of tests revealed a 31% decrease in cancer risk in men who used multivitamins, but no effect in women.
Two different studies examined the influence of vitamin supplements—including calcium and folic acid—on middle-aged men and women. Observation of these cases relates that the use of vitamin supplements over a long period of time reduces the risk of colon cancer.
Other research studies conducted on the use of vitamin supplements include their effect on brain function, mental state and eyesight. Some studies show that they can enhance memory in elderly people as well as improve overall mood. It was also discovered that antioxidant vitamins delay visual decline caused by macular degeneration that accompanies ageing and is the number one cause of irreversible blindness worldwide. Moreover, there were indications of possible cataract risk reduction with the use of vitamin supplements.
You’ve probably heard many testimonies that claim vitamin C is highly effective in common cold prevention. Contrary to this belief, studies show that it has nothing to do with your immunity from contracting the cold virus, although regular vitamin C consumption, they say, could shorten bouts of this disease. However, starting your supplement intake once the virus has set in is futile unless what you are taking is a zinc supplement, which is believed to promote quick recuperation.
Supplements in Special Situations
Despite not being able to fully live up to the hype, vitamins aren’t completely a mere health fad. For people with specific nutritional needs, specially formulated vitamin supplements could be just what the doctor ordered.
For instance, pregnant and breastfeeding women may require more folate to ensure the normal development of the baby in their womb and an adequate amount of nutrients in the milk they produce. Taking folic acid (vitamin B9) supplements helps keep their folate supply at the prescribed level. In contrast, too much vitamin A in expectant mothers could result in birth defects.
As you get older, your body tends to absorb nutrients—like vitamin B12—less efficiently so you rely on supplements to complete your required daily intake of vitamins and minerals. Senior adults may also need more calcium and vitamin D for bone strength and fortification.
In addition, people with a certain way of living such as vegans, vegetarians and those on strict diet programs can only obtain the necessary nutrients through supplements. If you’ve subscribed to a plant-based diet, you may be deficient in nutrients found in animal source foods such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 oils, calcium, iron and zinc.
Your body needs vitamins to properly carry out its functions, but it is unable to produce them by itself, thus, it gets all the necessary nutrients from the foods you eat and other sources. There are 13 vitamins your body requires and they can be made available in different forms and preparations as dietary supplements. Although supplements are widely used, there is little evidence of their health benefits and disease-preventing capabilities, and is said to even increase the risk of some illnesses.
While vitamins and minerals are best obtained from healthy food sources, certain circumstances like pregnancy, ageing and food restrictions can prevent you from getting all the nutrients your body requires. In any of these situations, your only option might be to take vitamin supplements.
With the many contradicting sentiments and speculations surrounding the use of supplements, it is always best to seek a doctor’s professional opinion before taking any kind of vitamin preparation. Vitamin supplements could be worth it especially if you have special needs and conditions, but you need to take them responsibly to ensure your health won’t get compromised.
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- Are Vitamin Supplements Worth It? – Australian Academy of Science
- Do you need a daily supplement? – Harvard Health Publishing
- Multivitamin-mineral use is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease mortality among women in the United States. – US National Library of Medicine
- The efficacy and safety of multivitamin and mineral supplement use to prevent cancer and chronic disease in adults: a systematic review for a National Institutes of Health state-of-the-science conference. – US National Library of Medicine
- Do Multivitamins Work? The Surprising Truth – Healthline
- What are vitamins, and how do they work? – Medical News Today
- Zinc and Its Importance in the Body – New Life Nutrition