In the US, 40% of the population buys vitamin and mineral supplements, spending $1 billion every year. However, there’s still a lot of disagreement among experts on whether spending all this money on micronutrient supplements is actually worth it or not.
One thing’s for sure, taking vitamin or mineral supplements is not and should never be thought of as a substitute for healthy eating. If you have a poor diet, to begin with, you can get all the vitamins and minerals you want. This will not make up for poor eating habits or improve your health by any stretch of the imagination.
However, if you do have a generally healthy diet, then taking a daily multivitamin multimineral supplement targeted for your age and gender, can help you cover your daily requirements for all these very precious molecules.
We all agree that meeting your requirements with food is always the best strategy. But let’s face it, meeting your daily requirements for all of the vitamins and all of the minerals with diet alone, and doing so every day, is extremely challenging.
If you consider the extraordinary advantages that come from fully covering your needs for all of these very precious nutrients, then getting a little extra help doesn’t hurt. When something may be beneficial and it certainly doesn’t hurt. I say we should go for it, and that’s why I do take my daily multivitamin and mineral supplement.
As long as it’s crystal clear that taking a supplement does not exonerate us from trying to get as much of the vitamins and minerals we need from natural food sources.
Some people are concerned that if they take a supplement, they are already covering most of their daily requirements for these molecules, and thus anything they get from food is in excess and may be detrimental. This is absolutely not true.
Taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement will never result in problems of toxicity because it provides amounts of micronutrients that are around the RDA. Remember that the RDA represents the minimum amount you should get every day to make sure you don’t incur deficiencies, but you can safely exceed that amount several folds without any risk for toxicity.
For example, say you take a multivitamin that already covers 100% of your vitamin E RDA, and then you snack on sunflower seeds which also cover your daily vitamin E requirement. You have eaten 200% of the RDA for vitamin
E, you have nothing to worry about and you can only be happy.
Unfortunately, what most frequently happens to people who don’t take a supplement. They don’t snack on sunflower seeds either. They almost never meet their RDA for vitamin E. And for most of the micronutrients. It is much much better to go above, rather than fall short of the RDA.
There are of course some exceptions. For example, the mineral iron, but these are already taken into account in the formulation of your supplement so you don’t have to worry about it. Of course, the multivitamin and mineral supplement is not to be confused with individual supplements providing megadoses of just one nutrient. These should only be taken under the supervision of a dietician or a physician, especially those with a high risk of toxicity, such as vitamin A and most of the minerals.
One segment of the population that I believe would greatly benefit from taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplements in older adults. As we get older, our diet tends to become poorer for a variety of reasons. Our appetite decreases, we may have trouble chewing or swallowing, we may be less motivated to cook especially if we live alone.
Our income may be lower than it used to be, and on top of all that, absorption of many vitamins and minerals decreases. We secrete less intrinsic factor for vitamin B12, our synthesis of vitamin D in the skin also decreases, in short, we get less of these nutrients from food, and we actually need more.
Marginal deficiencies of vitamins and minerals are extremely common in older adults. They result in many of the little symptoms we have described, often mistaken for inevitable ailments of aging, when in fact, taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement would be enough to make them go away.
I personally prefer supplements to fortified food. When you take a supplement you know what you take, when you take it, and how much of each nutrient is in it. It’s easier to keep track of what you are getting.
Fortified food is trickier, because you may be getting something without even realizing it. You wouldn’t expect to find that specific nutrient in that specific food.
Even if you are a careful label reader, it’s much more difficult to estimate the amounts you are getting. You normally don’t weigh your breakfast cereals or your orange juice to know how much of the added nutrients you are getting. Besides, added nutrients easily add up if you combine multiple fortified foods in your diet.
In short, if you want some extra calcium I’d rather have you get the amount you want from a tablet, instead of a little bit from fortified OJ, a little bit from fortified cereals, and a little bit from who knows where so that who knows how much you are getting and if you are not getting enough or if you are getting too much.
Remember that adding vitamin D to your orange juice or vitamin B12 to your breakfast cereals, is not any more natural than adding them to a pill. It just makes it harder to keep track of them.
My personal advice, but let the record show that this is just my personal opinion and doesn’t reflect everybody’s ideas, is to take one daily multivitamin and mineral supplement targeted for your age group and gender, plus half a gram of vitamin C to be increased to 1 gram during the winter season, plus 50 micrograms of vitamin D during the winter months or all the year-round if you don’t get at least 15 minutes of daily sunlight exposure.
Women of childbearing age and during pregnancy should also take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. On top of all that, I advise you to make regular use of the natural supplements of group B vitamins such as brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, and soy lecithin, as well as sunflower seeds for vitamin E. I also recommend eating calf liver every once in a while to get plenty of vitamins A, B12, and many other B vitamins, as well as iron, copper, and many other minerals.
Always consult a doctor before taking any supplements.