Vitamins & Minerals- Do I Need Supplements?

It's a commonly asked question- What kind of vitamin or mineral supplements should I be taking?

I typically tell my patients that as long as they are eating a proper diet that incorporates all of the food groups, no supplements are necessary. I also say that for most healthy people it won't hurt to take a daily multivitamin. Companies want you to think that you need all these extra supplements because they want your money! And those of you who take supplements know that they can be pricey. Here are the more specifics that I often recommend and why. 

Vitamin D: In conjunction with calcium, vitamin D helps to maintain strong bones and therefore helps to prevent osteoporosis. Most of us get the required amount needed via sunlight. The sun actually converts a chemical in our skin into vitamin D3, which then is transformed into active vitamin D. Ten to fifteen minutes three days a week without the protection of sunscreen is sufficient. Our body's production of vitamin D declines with age and in the northern latitudes. Although I live in Florida, I actually see a lot of patients who are deficient. Most people who are deficient in vitamin D are asymptomatic. A laboratory test can determine if you are deficient or not. You can get vitamin D from egg yolks, fatty fish, cod liver oil and fortified products (such as milk, cheese, orange juice, cereals and soy milk). 

Calcium: Helps maintain healthy bones and teeth. It also helps with muscle and nerve function. An 8 ounce glass of milk is adequate for adults to get the recommended amount of calcium. Sufficient vitamin D is important for calcium to be absorbed by the body. What about those who are lactose intolerant or choose not to eat dairy? Broccoli, kale, spinach, collard greens, oranges, tofu, and almonds are some alternative foods that are rich in calcium. 

Vitamin B12: Adequate vitamin B12 levels are important for red blood cell production, energy metabolism, neurological function, and DNA synthesis. Deficiency can lead to anemia, fatigue, numbness or tingling in extremities, memory loss, depression, and more. Deficiency can result from not getting adequate amounts from diet, or from the body's inability to absorb vitamin B12. If you are taking acid reducers for heartburn or reflux, this can decrease the body's absorption of this essential vitamin. If you have problems with digestion such as Celiac disease or Crohn's colitis, you may also be at risk for deficiency. Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products, including fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products. People with vegetarian or vegan diets are at risk for developing deficiency if they don't eat fortified foods (enriched grains and cereals), or take a supplement. Since vitamin B12 is water soluble, it's something that you really can't overdose on. Anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 mcg daily is sufficient for supplementation.  

Folic acid: Another B vitamin. This one is extremely important for women of child-bearing age. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all women capable of becoming pregnant consume 400 mcg of folic acid daily to prevent neural tube defects. It's essential to have adequate folic acid in the body prior to becoming pregnant in order to avoid birth defects. Sources of folic acid include leafy green vegetables, fruits, dried beans, peas and nuts, and enriched breads, cereals and other grain products. 

Iron: Iron deficiency can cause fatigue, pale skin, brittle nails, or pica (desire to eat ice) among other symptoms. Many young women develop iron deficiency from heavy menstrual cycles. Laboratory tests can determine your red blood cell count, hemoglobin, hematocrit and the size of the red blood cells. If any of these tests are abnormal, you should have your iron level checked. There are many other causes of iron deficiency, which should be looked into closely by your healthcare provider if it is present. Animal sources of iron include beef, chicken, fish, turkey, and eggs. Plant sources include oatmeal, beans, spinach, whole grains, and tofu. If a supplement is needed its important to take it along with vitamin C so that the body absorbs it properly.

If you are wondering if you have a deficiency, talk to your healthcare provider. Feel free to comment any questions, or anything else you would like to hear about regarding supplements!