Do You Really Need A Vitamin Supplement?

Thousands of different supplements all claiming to make you healthy, how do you know which is right for you? Here are some tips on the real benefits of supplements, who should take them, and which to avoid.

Are vitamin supplements right for me?

Before you jump on the vitamin bandwagon, it’s crucial to know whether taking supplements makes the most sense for you. Factors such as your health history or pregnancy can help your physician determine if a vitamin supplement is the best option. But if you are generally healthy and include the right foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, etc.) in your diet, there is typically no need to add supplementation.

People with specific nutritional needs, such as pregnant women, can benefit most from taking vitamins. The U.S. Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control recommend that women who are planning to become pregnant should take 400 to 800 micrograms of folic acid every day, even before pregnancy begins. Folic acid can prevent major birth defects such as spina bifida.

Vitamins and prescriptions don’t always mix

When mixed with certain medications, some vitamins can do more harm than good. Studies show that vitamin K can help with better bone health, for example, but when mixed with certain blood thinners it can reduce the medication’s ability to prevent blood clotting. While the Food and Drug Administration may regulate the use of vitamins differently than prescription medication, you should treat your supplements as you would any other medication. Also, let your physician know of any medications you are taking before adding vitamins to your diet.

Whole foods are best

While each type of vitamin comes with certain benefits, whole foods are complex, providing several nutrients at once. A vitamin C supplement, for example, can be helpful alone, but an orange contains vitamin C, beta carotene and calcium, among other micronutrients.

Many fruits and vegetables also contain phytochemicals, which can help protect against heart disease, diabetes, cancer and hypertension, or high blood pressure. They also have antioxidants to help slow down the process of oxidation, which can lead to damage of the cells and tissue. Additionally, you can lower the risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes by including fiber in your diet, found most in whole grains, legumes (such as beans, peas, soybeans), fruits and vegetables.