Vitamins And Supplements — Are They Really Good For You?

Seems like every day there’s a new claim for the great benefits of dietary supplements. But later, you hear about alarming side effects of the very same vitamins, minerals or supplements. Remember, just because something is natural doesn’t always mean it is safe.

The best way to get the nutrients you need is eating a variety of fresh whole foods. However, many of us fall short of eating as we should. Some people might need more of certain vitamins and minerals than others do.

Here are helpful notes about some of the most popular vitamin supplements.

What are Dietary Supplements?

Any non-food products you take to add nutrients to your diet are called supplements. They range from vitamins and minerals to green tea, bee pollen, botanicals and all sorts of exotic edible substances.

What Do People Think They Do?

Many people take a daily vitamin and mineral pill believing it will improve general health and wellbeing.

Others take supplements for specific health targets. They hope to become more energetic, live longer, avoid heart disease or cancer. Some aim to help ailments like arthritis or diabetes, improve memory or mood, or reduce menopause symptoms.

The biggest reason people take them? According to one study: beauty.

Do They Work?

Nearly all good research shows they don’t work for general health improvement. Nutrition supplements are not intended to treat, prevent or cure diseases and cannot replace a healthful diet. Newer research shows that supplements do not curb cancer. In fact, taking some supplements can increase cancer or heart disease risk in some people.

But other people are likely to benefit from some supplements. For example, 12% of women in their childbearing years don’t have enough folate, which helps prevent birth defects. And 30% of darker-skinned people need more vitamin D.

Your health care team or a registered dietitian nutritionist can tell you more. And you can find lots of good information about supplements from the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Check them out before spending money on products that might be useless—or even dangerous.

If you do decide to take supplements, let your doctor know. This is especially important if you’re taking medications. Supplements and drugs can interact with each other.

6 Common Supplements and Who Might Benefit

Here’s what Consumer Reports has to say about some of the most popular vitamin supplements.

  1. Multivitamins

They don’t improve the average person’s health. If you’re eating a healthful diet, you probably don’t need a multivitamin.

Dose: If you take a multivitamin, avoid megadoses. Too much of some vitamins can be toxic. Just go for the basic vitamins and minerals at recommended doses. For detailed recommendations, look here.

People most likely to benefit from multivitamins are:

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Depleted by cancer, diabetes or other conditions
  • Over age 50
  • Dieters who eat fewer than 1,200 calories a day or avoid all carbs
  1. Vitamin D

New research shows that vitamin D deficiency isn’t as common as we thought. Still, if you don’t get enough sun, you might need supplements. Have a blood test to check your levels if you’re in doubt.

Swordfish, salmon and canned tuna provide vitamin D, but fortified foods such as milk or orange juice provide most of the vitamin D in the American diet.

Dose: 600 IU (International Units) for adults under age 70, and 800 IU if older. Don’t take more than 4,000 IU a day.

People most likely to benefit from vitamin D are:

  • Middle-aged or older
  • Dark skinned
  • Overweight
  1. Vitamin C

Getting this from food sources is better than getting it from pills. Fruits and vegetables have other healthy nutrients such as phytochemicals that go along with the vitamin C.

Dose: 90 mg for men and 75 mg for women daily

People who might benefit from more vitamin C:

  • Smokers (35 mg more)
  • People with colds (200 mg more)
  1. Vitamin B

Most people get enough of the B vitamins. Extra vitamin B won’t boost your energy.

People who might benefit from taking B vitamins:

  • Vegans usually need B-12 — about 6 mcg/day
  • Over age 50 — might need B-12. Some may need large doses or injections
  • Pregnant women or women wanting to get pregnant — take 400 mcg of folic acid
  1. Vitamins A

Don’t take vitamin A supplements. Too much is toxic. Get this vitamin from food: yellow, orange and dark green veggies.

  1. Vitamin E

Don’t take vitamin E supplements. Newer research suggests more risk than benefit — especially risk of heart disease and lung cancer with long-term use. Get vitamin E from nuts, seeds, vegetable oil, avocado, and wheat germ — not pills.

Eating Better

Supplements are no substitute for a good diet. Here’s a place to start learning more about eating your vitamins and minerals.

Meet the Author

Laurelyn Harper, MS, RD, CD is a Registered Dietitian at Aurora Medical Center in Oshkosh, WI and primarily works at the Vince Lombardi Cancer center.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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