The number of people taking supplements is rising and reflects the growing awareness about the important role that diet plays in maintaining good health. Choosing a multivitamin or an individual vitamin supplement is often confusing, and deciding if you need or should take vitamins further contributes to the confusion. Add to this the promotional hype about supplements and the issue becomes very cloudy indeed. Ideally, the proper combination of vitamins and minerals should come from food sources.
Nature has provided an abundance of vitamins and minerals conveniently wrapped up in organic packages designed for maximum absorption and utilization by the body. What nature provides, processing takes away, with much of the nutrient value being lost. This is why some vitamin and mineral supplementation is needed.
It is clear that many of us can benefit from supplements at certain times in our lives, particularly when there is an increased requirement for certain nutrients or when there is likely to be an inadequate dietary intake. Examples of groups for whom they can be useful include young children and adolescents; pregnant and breast-feeding women; house-bound or institutionalized elderly people; smokers; heavy drinkers; people who are chronically ill or recovering from a recent illness and anybody on a restrictive diet.
Despite increasing recognition that an intake of some nutrients above the amounts calculated as necessary to avoid deficiency can reduce the risk of several diseases, it seems to be the complex mixture of nutrients in foods which is beneficial for health, rather than a high intake of one particular nutrient. Foods are better than supplements because the diet will also contain several beneficial nutrients such as fiber and other plant constituents, which supplements cannot replace.
For most healthy people, eating a varied and balanced diet – in particular one which is rich in fruit and vegetables – will provide all the vitamins and minerals the body needs. For these people dietary supplements are unnecessary. In fact taking megadoses of multivitamins and minerals, or single supplements, can potentially cause serious health problems because some supplements are toxic at high doses.
Most people, however, take in large quantities of nutritionally-depleted food which only provides excessive calories. People often feel hungry shortly after eating because there haven't been enough nutrients, which results in overweight and under-nourished people. Therefore, in general, a small amount of supplementation with meals is recommended every day.
During the winter months, slightly higher amounts of specific vitamins such as C and B-complex may be needed as metabolism changes to meet the demands of the colder weather. Additionally, they provide protection from the increased exposure to colds and flus. During the summer, a smaller amount of supplementation is required as the diet is higher in fruits and vegetables which are abundant in nutrients.
The elderly should take slightly higher amounts of vitamins and minerals as the ability to absorb nutrients becomes less with age. The requirement for nutrients does not change but the requirement for calories is lower.
What is the best type of vitamin and/or mineral to take?
Depending upon whom you ask, you will get different answers. Manufacturers have invented new and different ways of compounding vitamins and minerals so they'll be better absorbed. Studies are cited which "demonstrate" the increased bowel uptake of their product.
Several studies comparing the different varieties of vitamin supplements have shown little if any difference as far as their ability to be utilized by the body. It appears that if a person is in need of a particular substance, then they'll absorb it no matter what form it's taken in. This is because the body alters the binding sites on the cell surface to absorb more of the deficient nutrient. What this means is that if you need it , it will be absorbed and if not, then it won't be absorbed as much.
Taking too many vitamins and minerals simply results in waste and vitamin toxicity.
Inadequate vitamin and mineral intake has been associated with immune deficiency and improper energy metabolism. It appears that most immune system dysfunction actually results from a vitamin and/or mineral deficiency rather than protein deficiency.
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