If a person eats a balanced and healthy diet, then it is definitely possible to obtain all of the required vitamins and minerals a person required through their diet alone.
But, with many people not eating healthy or balanced diets, relying upon fast food, ready meals and takeaways, vitamin supplementation may be a way of improving their nutrition.
Why do we need Vitamins in our Diet?
Numerous studies have conclusively found that consuming sufficient levels of vitamins and minerals is important not only for maintaining general health, but also for reducing the chances of developing cancers and various cardiac-related illnesses.
Vitamins are present in many different combinations in food, and the best way to gain the most nutrition from food is to eat a wide variety of ingredients. This increases the types and amounts of vitamins that are consumed each day, therefore improving health in the long run.
A good website that contains a huge bank of knowledge about the nutritional value of food, and they feature extensive lists on the most nutritious foods is called Healthaliciousness.com.
Why Vitamin Supplements may be useful?
Vitamin supplements are suitable for boosting the intake of vitamins that are not obtained via the person’s daily diet. However, it is always a much better idea to amend dietary choices to increase vitamin intake to be closer to the recommended daily intake, rather than to artificially supplement.
Dangers of Taking Excess Amounts of Multivitamins
Reports have noted that people who regularly take multi-vitamins and other supplements may actually then neglect their diet, as they believe that multi-vitamins act as a safety net. Too much of something can also be problematic for health.
Studies are increasingly finding that consuming excess levels of vitamins may actually be detrimental for health. Numerous studies have looked at various different vitamins and supplements, and how their use affects the incidence of numerous different illnesses and diseases, including cancers.
Excess amounts of some vitamins, especially those that are fat-soluble, can lead to health problems, both in the short and long term. Fat-soluble vitamins are more easily stored in the body than vitamins that are not soluble in fats. Excess amounts of vitamin A can lead to jaundice, nausea, loss of appetite, irritability, vomiting, and can cause hair loss, but also increases the chances of developing osteoporosis. Meanwhile, consuming excess amounts of vitamin D from food or supplements can lead to anorexia, weight loss, polyuria, heart arrhythmias, kidney stones, and increased risk of heart attacks (see Top 10 foods highest in Vitamin D article).
Three different studies published in Annals of Internal Medicine ( see here ) also heavily suggest that the use of multi-vitamins is not as beneficial to health as previously thought, with one editorial summarising;
Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided.
The studies focused upon people in well-nourished, Western populations, and looked at a cross section of the population, which all had different diets and health levels.
In fact, the results of these studies strongly suggests that the excess use of multivitamins, especially in people who already gain enough nutrition from their daily diets, could increase mortality rates and incidences of some diseases. One editorial from the Annals of Internal Medicine, entitled “Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Mineral Supplements”, came to the conclusion based upon their results that some supplements, such as “beta-carotene, vitamin E, and possibly high doses of vitamin A, [might increase] the risk of death” in certain instances.
Megavitamins Should Always be Avoided
It is very important to avoid consuming excess amounts of vitamins and minerals, because of the negative health implications. Megavitamins, which contain far more than 100% of the RDA for the vitamins they contain, should be avoided to reduce the chances of negative health implications. Consuming excess amounts of multivitamins has been described as unnatural, and can be dangerous for health, in both the short and long term.
The New York Times described how, in America, multi-vitamin manufacturers actively prevented the FDA from regulating these types of supplements:
In December 1972, concerned that people were consuming larger and larger quantities of vitamins, the F.D.A. announced a plan to regulate vitamin supplements containing more than 150 percent of the recommended daily allowance. Vitamin makers would now have to prove that these “megavitamins” were safe before selling them. Not surprisingly, the vitamin industry saw this as a threat, and set out to destroy the bill. In the end, it did far more than that.
Industry executives recruited William Proxmire, a Democratic senator from Wisconsin, to introduce a bill preventing the F.D.A. from regulating megavitamins. On Aug. 14, 1974, the hearing began.
A little more than a month later, Mr. Proxmire’s bill passed by a vote of 81 to 10. In 1976, it became law. As a result, consumers don’t know that taking megavitamins could increase their risk of cancer and heart disease and shorten their lives; they don’t know that they have been suffering too much of a good thing for too long.
Source: New York Times article
If considering using multivitamins, ensure that the portions in each tablet do not exceed 100% of the RDA for any individual vitamin.
Groups who Should Take Multivitamins or Vitamin supplements
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends certain supplements for some groups of people who are at risk of deficiency. These groups include pregnant and breastfeeding women, those over the age of 65, and children under the age of 5. People who suffer from deficiencies may also be prescribed vitamin supplements to boost their vitamin intake.
Because of the loss of iron through menstruation, women need more iron in their diets than men. Consider adding small portions of nuts and seeds to your diet, as well as eating meat, as these are all great sources of iron. Your doctor can also test for iron deficiency, to see if you need to take a supplement.
Studies have shown that women trying to get pregnant and pregnant women should take folic acid supplements, as this dramatically reduces the incidences of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida in the child. This is because folic acid is required in fairly high levels for the development of the foetus, which dramatically raises the folic acid requirements of the mother. Pregnant women will most likely be prescribed folic acid by their doctor, although there are also pre-natal vitamins available for women who are considering having children in the near future.
Children Under 5
Many foods marketed for children are already supplemented artificially with numerous vitamins and minerals, but with many young children being fussy eaters, it is a good idea to pay attention to their vitamin intake, and supplement if necessary. The best thing is to talk to your child’s doctor about their diet, and any particular nutrition needs they may have.
As we age, our ability to absorb the vitamins and minerals we consume decreases. This may mean that a multivitamin is beneficial for those over the age of 65 or so, even for people who have a healthy diet. Calcium is often recommended for the elderly as a good supply of the mineral helps to prevent osteoporosis.
Vegetarians and Vegans
Vegetarians and vegans may need to find alternative sources of iron and B vitamins in their diets, as the most well-known natural sources of these is from meat sources. There are other natural alternatives, but supplementation will ensure that these nutrients are consumed daily, preventing deficiencies. Similarly, vegans may also want to look for other sources of calcium, as they have removed dairy from their diet, a key provider of the nutrient. It is also possible that other minerals, including magnesium, selenium, vitamin D, and zinc are also in short supply.
Patients who have had Gastric Bypass Surgery
People who have had any kind of surgery that reduces that capacity of their stomach, or shortens their bowels in any way, may have trouble absorbing enough vitamins and minerals from their diet. This often affects people who have had weight loss surgery. This side effect is discussed pre-surgery, and supplementation is usually recommended as a part of post-surgery lifestyle changes the patient must make to remain healthy.
People on Very Low Calorie Diets
Low calorie diets are a weight loss method that has become very popular in recent times, despite being one of the more unhealthy methods of losing weight. These should only be followed in the short term, and are not a long-term viable weight loss solution. By restricting calorific intake severely, the nutrients consumed per day will also be restricted, no matter how healthy the food is.
Anyone considering undertaking a low calorie diet, even for a short period of time, should consider supplementing their nutritional intake with multivitamins to prevent deficiencies. Some meal replacement programs act as low or very low calorie diets, but are already supplemented with vitamins, so it is important to always read the packaging, to avoid consuming too much of any particular vitamin by supplementing unnecessarily.
Do Athletes Need to Take Multivitamins?
It is well known that people who exercise frequently burn more calories, and often have a higher metabolism due to the extra muscle mass they carry. This means that to maintain their fitness, they do need to eat more calories and high amounts of protein than a sedentary person. But, does this mean that they also have raised requirements for vitamins?
Studies do suggest a slightly greater need for athletes. However, it is more than likely that by eating a very healthy diet as a part of their fitness regime, and by consuming more calories than people who have less active lifestyles, that any additional requirements for vitamins and minerals are already being met.
Athletes and people who exercise regularly do lose more electrolytes (key minerals) through exercise, and so have slightly increased requirements for these minerals. Again, these minerals can easily be sourced through a healthy and balanced diet, rather than needing to supplement artificially. It is also worth remembering that that many protein shakes and other post-workout supplements contain these electrolytes as well, reducing or even removing the need for supplementation via multivitamins.
For people who are considering increasing the amount of exercise they undertake, a change in diet to include more fruits and vegetables, and less processed foods, will help them to meet their new nutritional requirements. By following the right diet, it is much easier to improve muscle mass, have more energy, and improve physical fitness, rather than just focusing upon exercise alone.
Conclusion – Multivitamins the Answer?
The use of multivitamins in the general population, according to numerous recent studies, actually has no beneficial effects upon rates of cancer or other diseases studied. In fact, people who have good diets already should most likely not consume multivitamins regularly, because they risk consuming too much of several fat-soluble vitamins, which are easily stored in the body. Too much of these fat-soluble vitamins, as discussed above, can lead to various health problems.
Statistics seem to show that the sort of people who take multivitamins are actually fairly health conscious, and more than likely have a fairly decent diet, with no major vitamin deficiencies. As there are some groups who should take extra steps to increase their vitamin intake, the use of multivitamins should not be discounted entirely. However people should talk to their doctors before self-medicating vitamin supplements, and consider choosing foods that are high in vitamins and minerals that can accomplish the same goal naturally.
Most people do not need to take multivitamins, but they can be beneficial in the short term. People who have additional vitamin requirements that are not met by their diet should consider changing their diet, or, failing that, should consider the use of individual vitamin supplements.