The importance of vitamins and supplements
Vitamins are organic chemical compounds that are required by the body in very small amounts for normal growth, metabolism and overall health. Vitamins assist the body in making enzymes and hormones that are responsible for performing chemical reactions needed to stay alive.
Vitamins must be obtained from food or supplements as they cannot be produced in the body. The role and importance of vitamins and supplements in helping to support overall health are increasingly becoming important. In recent times, medical experts have realized and supported the idea of using vitamins and supplements to help achieve better health. There is also increasing evidence that suggests that using vitamins and supplements may help prevent some unwanted medical conditions such as heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and other chronic diseases.
Importance of Vitamins and Supplements
The body requires more than 40 key nutrients to function properly. The primary source of these nutrients should be from good nutrition, however, our current lifestyles do not allow us to consume adequate amounts of these nutrients such as zinc, vitamin A, Vitamin B12, Iron and folic acid. Also, because of malnutrition, we are not receiving the right amounts of vitamins that are required by the body to perform.
Malnutrition usually results from;
- Hunger and undernourishment – which occurs when we consume diets below the minimum levels required to support a healthy weight.
- Obesity – This occurs when we consume diets over the amounts required to support a healthy body weight
- Micronutrient deficiencies – Occurs when you lack the essential vitamins and minerals required in small amounts by the body for healthy development.
The typical Western (including UK and USA) diet is deficient in nutrients and fibre but high in additives, cholesterol, and preservatives. As a result, it’s common for people to have nutritional gaps which may eventually lead to unwanted medical conditions.
For example, the lack of iron or vitamin b12 (anaemia) is common and it is known to affect more people than another health problem.
From the figure above, countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Gabon, India and Pakistan are seen to have very high rates of anaemia in pregnant women. The lack of iron or vitamin b12 appears to be common in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.
Another example is the prevalence of zinc deficiency globally in men, women and children. This can negatively affect the central nervous system, immune system, reproductive system and skeletal system.
Most people do not meet all the vitamin and nutrient requirements from our diets alone. As a result, supplementation can be an inexpensive option of meeting all our vitamin and nutrient requirements – it is sensible insurance that you’re getting all that you need.
Secondly, as we age the body may lose some of its ability to properly absorb and assimilate nutrients from food. On the flip side, the body’s requirement for nutrients increases as we age and supplementing with vitamins can help the body meet this demand.
How much vitamins and supplements are required
The amount of each vitamin required by the body varies for everyone. However, there is guidance on the amount of vitamins that are required for the average healthy person to avoid deficiency. This is known as the Nutrient Reference Value (NRV). Vitamins and supplements sold on the market provide information on the ingredients used and the proportion of the NRV value (% NRV) that is available in the product. Below are the recommended values for most vitamins and supplements.
|Vitamin C||80 mg||Vitamin A||800|
|Niacin||16 mg||Folic Acid||200 mcg|
|Vitamin E||12 mg||Vitamin K||75 mcg|
|Riboflavin||1.4 mg||Biotin||50 mcg|
|Vitamin B6||1.4 mg||Vitamin D||5 mcg|
|Thiamin||1.1 mg||Vitamin B12||2.5 mcg|
1gram = 1000mg
1mg = 1000mcg
Read more What Vitamins for good for
Buying Vitamins and Supplements
Deciding on which supplement to buy can be a stressful process. There are tons of brands and products on the market with all sorts of claims.
Natural or Synthetic vitamins and supplements – Vitamins and supplement products can either be natural or synthetic. Interestingly, the body uses and absorbs both natural and synthetic supplements in the same way so most often there is no additional value in paying extra for “natural” supplements. Synthetic vitamins and supplements are mostly cheaper than natural ones but offer the same value as natural supplements.
Capsules, Softgels, Tablets, Liquid Sprays or Powder – Sprays are becoming more common nowadays. These more expensive options are easily absorbed through the mucous membranes of the mouth and they do not contain fillers, binders or waxes that are used in pills and capsules. Tablets that are more common than the other forms have the slowest rate of bioavailability. Capsules, however, have better bioavailability than tablets but less than liquids.
5 Tips for getting vitamins from food
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables contain high levels of fiber and many vitamins and nutrients that cannot be obtained from supplements. Such healthy diets rich in fruits and vegetables may help prevent conditions such as high blood pressure, inflammation and high blood sugar.
- Go for good fats. Fats are the most concentrated source of energy available to the body. After about the age of two, we only require it in smaller amounts – most often less than what is available from most diets. Fats obtained from fish and plants are beneficial and can help lower LDL cholesterol. Sources of such “good” unsaturated fats include omega 3 fatty acids, seeds, nuts, avocado and olive oil. Saturated fats like those found in dairy and meat products may increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Reduce sugars. Fizzy drinks, sugary drinks, sweets, etc just increase our blood sugar levels and provide no nutrients or vitamins to the body
- Opt for whole grains. Whole grains contain vitamins, minerals and fiber that are required for the body to perform well. Refined grains like white bread and white rice do not contain these important vitamins and minerals.
- Eat breakfast. Breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day because the decision to eat or drink at the start of our day has been shown to have significant benefits on our health, general well-being and cognitive performance.
Vitamins and Supplements for Vegetarians or Vegans
Vegetarians and vegans do not consume animal products such as meat and as a result, they stand a risk of not getting enough vitamins and minerals that may be obtained from animal-based products.
Vitamins and supplements are not magic pills and will not make up for an unhealthy diet or unhealthy lifestyles. Eating fruits, vegetables and reducing processed foods and sugars should be the primary objective to achieve better health. Vitamins and supplements will help fill any nutritional gaps that you may have in your goal to achieve better health.
DISCLAIMER: THIS SHOULD BE USED FOR INFORMATION AND EDUCATION PURPOSES. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO TREAT, DIAGNOSE OR PREVENT ANY DISEASE. WE ENCOURAGE YOU TO MAKE YOUR OWN HEALTH CARE DECISIONS BASED ON RESEARCH AND ADVICE FROM A QUALIFIED HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL
Agin, B. and Perkins, S., 2013. Healthy Aging For Dummies. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons.
Balch, P., n.d. Prescription For Nutritional Healing.
Blake, S., 2011. Vitamins & Minerals Demystified. New York: McGraw Hill Professional.