Do you take a multivitamin every day to help improve your health? Or maybe you supplement your limited diet with powders and pills meant to fill in the gaps of a less-than-ideal eating plan. If your medicine cabinet contains an alphabet soup of vitamins and mineral supplements, you’re probably one of the millions of Americans who rely on bottled nutrition to help supply the building blocks for a healthy body and mind. But is that an effective game plan?
Not necessarily, according to Danielle Metzler, MD. She recommends a balanced diet for better health—not a trip to the pharmacy or vitamin store.
“The truth of the matter is that there’s not a lot of fact-based evidence that taking a vitamin supplement improves your health,” says Dr. Metzler, a primary care doctor with Roper St. Francis Physician Partners Primary Care. “A lot of these products don’t have to go through any kind of testing before they hit the market. The safest option is to improve your diet and talk to your doctor or nutritionist about how to get these micro and macronutrients into your diet.”
What are vitamins and minerals?
“In general, when people say vitamins or supplements, they’re using the terms interchangeably, or they’re talking about vitamins and minerals,” says Dr. Metzler. Minerals are inorganic elements that promote bone health, balance your body’s fluids and support growth. Vitamins are nutrients that help your body function properly. They are essential for various roles, including digestion, growth and regulating your body’s processes.
There are two main types of vitamins:
- Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins K, E, D and A. This type of vitamin dissolves in fat and can accumulate in your body.
- Water-soluble vitamins include C and B vitamins. They dissolve in water and do not build up in your body.
Multivitamins are supplements that consist of a variety of vitamins and minerals. Their ingredients and potency vary according to brand and product details. They come in many forms, including capsules, pills, gummies, liquids and powders. Multivitamins are not strictly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means you can’t always be sure what they contain.
Who needs vitamin supplements?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to know whether you might benefit from taking vitamins. “It’s not as simple as ‘Should I take a supplement, which one and why.’ It’s really an individualized thing, and folks should talk to their doctor about what’s right for them,” says Dr. Metzler. “If someone has a particular vitamin deficiency—like vitamin D or calcium, their electrolytes are off, or they’re low on zinc, something like that—that can be a marker that a doctor can test for.”
Your doctor takes your personal and family medical history into account when determining if you need extra vitamins. You may need to take a vitamin supplement if you:
- Are older than 50
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Are vegan or vegetarian
- Do not absorb nutrients correctly
- Do not always have access to healthy food
- Have nutritional deficiencies
- Plan to become pregnant
Your doctor can help determine whether you need additional vitamins and minerals to achieve the health benefits you’re looking for.
Are there health risks associated with vitamin supplements?
The main risk associated with taking vitamins is taking too many. For example, fat-soluble vitamins can accumulate in your body if you consume excessive amounts. Overconsumption can lead to serious health concerns, including organ damage, stroke and irregular heartbeat. Water-soluble vitamins may not raise the same health alarms. Still, if you take more than the recommended dose, it may cause digestive upset, liver damage and neurological concerns.
Find a doctor
To find a primary care doctor who can help you develop a balanced eating plan that provides the vitamins and minerals you need to live your best life, call (843) 402-CARE or visit rsfh.com