Is there a better way to get your vitamins? Why many doctors are now telling you to ditch the dailies for a more personalized approach.
Vitamins and supplements are a great addition to your health plan if used correctly. However, when taken incorrectly or in excess, dietary supplements can lead to toxicity, or in less dramatic cases, expensive pee.
Before we get into how and why to take vitamins, lets first take a look at what they are. Vitamins for all purposes are just condensed food in pill form. Almost all vitamins besides Vitamin D you can get in adequate amounts from food. The issue is that many people today are not eating enough of the right foods or don’t have sufficient variety in their diets.
Thanks to the creation of supplements, a slew of vitamin deficiency diseases such as rickets, anemia, scurvy, and thyroid goiter are now easily treated and prevented. Those who are diagnosed with a vitamin deficiency, have an illness, are young, elderly, or pregnant, then vitamins will be taken like medicine, often daily. However, for the rest of us, a daily vitamin usually isn’t needed. If our diet is not ideal then a 2-3x a week vitamin should suffice.
The saying “you are what you eat” can actually be taken quite literally. On the most basic level, that which you eat becomes you. To get a full picture of your vitamin needs, you can do a blood test to get the facts rather than guessing.
Why not take a multivitamin every day?
One issue with taking multivitamins daily is that they can start to block out nutrients. For example; too much calcium blocks the absorption of magnesium. Many people who take calcium supplements for osteoporosis end up with muscle cramps due to low magnesium. Vitamin E is another example; there are 8 forms of vitamin E found in nature, but many supplements only use one form. The issue with that is too much of one form of Vitamin E can block the absorption of the other forms.
Another aspect to consider is the total absorption factor, when a vitamin is taken every day, the body starts to absorb less of it. If you take Vitamin C for a week straight on the first few days you will have 100% absorption, but then by the end of the week, you may only be absorbing 30% of that vitamin. Thus taking your vitamin 2-3x per week will allow for better absorption and reduces risk of blocking nutrients. When you do take your vitamins, it is recommended you take them with the biggest meal of the day.
Which vitamins do I need to take?
Taking into account the modern-day diet and lifestyle, the nutrients that people are most at risk for being deficient in are; Iodine, Vitamin D3, Selenium, Chromium.
In 1924 food processors began adding iodine to salt to address the high rates of iodine deficiency. At the time a good portion of the population was developing thyroid conditions such as hypothyroid goiter and adding iodine to salt quickly resolved this issue. Iodine is also needed to ensure proper brain development and some scientists claim that thanks to the addition of iodine to salt the population became 3% smarter (this portion is likely more urban legend as claiming that iodine increased IQ would be very difficult to prove).
Then the 2000’s hit and many people starting going on low salt or sea salt diets, which means the iodine they were once getting from ionized salt was no longer being consumed. As a result, we started seeing people with iodine deficiency again and thus the need for supplements.
Outside of iodized salt, iodine is also found in seafood, seaweed, dairy, and eggs. One packet of seaweed has about 5mg of iodine. Iodine supplements are also available online or in stores. About 12mg of iodine per week is recommended. Too much iodine, on the other hand, is also linked to thyroid and other medical conditions.
Selenium is an antioxidant, which is needed for the body to fight oxidative stress and for proper immune and thyroid function. Antioxidants are compounds that prevent oxidation from free radicals. Free radicals are unpaired electrons that bounce around the body looking for an electron to steal, often leading to cell damage. Antioxidants pair with those free radicals making them stable.
Brazil nuts are the most commonly referred to food product for the consumption of selenium, but other foods such as seafood, lean meats, poultry, and eggs also contain the nutrient.
The daily recommended dose of selenium is 200 micro-grams per day and one Brazil nut contains 140 micro-grams. Thus, adding one nut per day to a balanced diet will give you adequate selenium intake.
When purchasing Brazil nuts, make sure the label says produced in Brazil. The selenium found in Brazil nuts comes from the selenium-rich soil that it grew in. If you can’t find nuts from Brazil, other parts of the rainforest and South Africa also have good levels of Selenium in their soil.
Vitamin D is 90% extracted from sunlight and needed for strong bones and muscles. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and phosphate, which promotes bone growth and helps prevent conditions such as rickets and osteoporosis. With the shift towards modern indoor life, we now see more cases of vitamin D deficiency.
Outside of sunlight exposure, foods such as salmon, red meat and eggs contain small amounts of vitamin D., In addition, many cereals and milk products are now fortified with Vitamin D.
About 50,000 IU per week of Vitamin D is needed for healthy body function. For those who are low in Vitamin D, D3 is the most commonly supplemented form. It is recommended to take 1,000-2,000IU per day of D3 and not exceed 4,0000ug per day, which could lead to toxicity. It is not known exactly how much sun is needed for adequate vitamin D absorption, but it is estimated 15mins per day if enough. Remember prolonged sun exposure can lead to skin cancer so a short period of sunlight on non-peak (outside 11am-3pm) hours is best.
Chromium is an element that is needed for metabolism and energy. Deficiency of chromium can lead to impaired glucose intolerance, mood changes, and impaired use of fats and proteins. About 1mg per week of chromium is recommended. Chromium is found most commonly in green vegetables, as well as some fruits like apples and products containing yeast. With modern diets, people are eating less dark greens. The switch to iceberg lettuce from kale or spinach resulted in people not getting enough chromium.
Other supplements to Consider
The 4 supplements listed above are the ones people today are most at risk of being deficient in. Below is an overview of other commonly asked about supplements and conditions in which vitamins may be beneficial.
First and foremost, it is important to remember that natural sources of vitamins and trace minerals are contained in healthy foods. This is the best way to gain the nutrients that your body needs.
Fat Soluble and Non Fat Soluble Vitamins
Those who don’t have a balanced diet should consider supplementing with fat and non-fat (also called water soluble) vitamins. These are micronutrients that the body cannot make and are needed for proper cell function, metabolism, immunity, and more.
Groups who are most prone to inadequate diet and vitamin deficiencies are children, senior citizens, pregnant women, lower income populations, athletes, drug or alcohol abusers, and those with eating disorders.
Fat-soluble vitamins, which include A, D, E, and K are stored in the fat cells of the body for later use. Water-soluble vitamins, B and C, are not. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins, water-soluble vitamins simply travel through the body and that which is needed is used and that which is in excess is eliminated in the urine.
The ideal is to take your fat soluble vitamins 1-2 days of the week and your non-fat-soluble vitamins another 1-2 day of the week. For example fat soluble on Monday and Friday and non-fat soluble on Tuesday and Saturday.
Taking multivitamins during pregnancy
Multivitamins taken during pregnancy are often referred to as prenatal vitamins. Prenatal supplements provide key nutrients such as folic acid, which helps prevent neural tube defects. This is important because neural tube defects can lead to serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord.
Eating healthy foods every day should give mothers most of the nutrients needed during pregnancy, but it’s hard to get some nutrients like folic acid and iron just through food. Taking prenatal vitamins along with eating healthy foods can help you get the nutrients you and your baby need before, during, and after pregnancy.
Iron supports the baby’s growth and development and can help prevent anemia. Other nutrients to look for in prenatal vitamins include omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, zinc, iodine, and copper.
Multivitamins and birth control
According to a recent report by Greater Baltimore Medical Center, some birth control pills can decrease calcium, folic acid, magnesium, vitamins B2, B6, B12, vitamin C, and zinc.
Multivitamins and regular exercise
Strenuous exercise takes a toll on the body and proper intake of vitamins and minerals plays an important role in energy production, maintenance of bone health, and muscle repair after a hard workout.
Even if you’re not a professional athlete or a bodybuilder, regular aerobic exercise that pushes your heart rate up, which is great for health and strength, may reduce micronutrients from the body. As a result, greater intakes of micronutrients may be required to cover increased needs for building, repair, and maintenance of lean body mass in athletes.
Multivitamins and the heart
Since heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the U.S., paying attention to heart health with nutrition and exercise is important. Vitamins B1, B2, B6, K1, Niacin (B3), CoQ10 and magnesium, all play a role in cardiovascular health, and special formulas are made for both men and women.
Multivitamins for seniors
Nutritional needs can change at any time during your life, and for seniors, keeping nutritional levels high contributes significantly to quality of life. Of course, all people are different, but as a rule when the body ages, it can sometimes absorb nutrients differently and more slowly.
Sometimes seniors tire easily and may reach for convenience foods that could be less than healthy options. Many ready-to-eat products are over-processed and contain fewer vitamins than natural foods.
Medications can further deplete the body of nutrients, and in some cases, block the vitamins from being absorbed. For example, antacids that contain aluminum or magnesium as a key ingredient may block vitamin D. Some medications taken for diabetes can deplete your body of vitamin B12 and folic acid. These are vitamins often found in multivitamin formulas made especially for seniors.
Multivitamins and immune system
Contrary to popular belief, Vitamin C will not make your cold or flu go away faster, what it will do is decrease your chance of getting the cold if taken regularly. Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant known for strengthening the immune system and helping you fight off illness. Ginseng, on the other hand, is shown to reduce the length of the cold.
Vitamins D and E boost immunity also. Some study results report that these vitamins can also help reduce allergy symptoms.
Multivitamins for hair, skin, and nails
Vitamin C and B vitamins, such as Niacin and Biotin (a popular supplement right now), are essential vitamins for hair growth. Some sources say having vitamin D deficiency and low levels of iron could play a role in thinning hair also. To maintain shiny, healthy hair and provide the nutrients your hair needs, maintain a balanced diet that is high in these vitamins is beneficial.
Multivitamins and eye health
If you’re reading this article online, you already know that staring at a computer or smartphone screen all day can strain your eyes. Small text has become a part of our daily lives, and some experts report that the eyes can be strengthened by a vitamin-rich diet.
Research has shown that vitamins A, C, E, Niacin (B3), and selenium support eye health, but experts don’t agree on whether a supplement will significantly improve eyesight. Lutein and Zeaxanthin also protect the eyes from harmful light waves. Studies have shown multivitamins containing a combination of vitamins, plus nutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin can reduce the risk of eye/vision problems.
When choosing a multivitamin, you might see minerals in the ingredients too. Minerals like copper and zinc are essential to eyesight. Antioxidants, including beta-carotene, can protect the eyes from sun damage. The best sources of antioxidants are nutrient-rich foods like dark leafy greens and egg yolks. Foods rich in sulfur, cysteine, and lecithin help protect the lens of your eye from cataract formation. Excellent choices for these nutrients include garlic and onions.
Zinc is often an added ingredient in multivitamin formulas. One of the many ways that zinc is important to your body relates to eyesight. You have high levels of the mineral zinc in your macula, which is part of the retina. The zinc helps vitamin A create a pigment called melanin, which protects your eyes. Some experts maintain that a zinc deficiency is what makes seeing at night more difficult. Health professionals don’t all agree that taking zinc supplements will improve eyesight. More research is needed to better understand how zinc relates to healthy vision.
Until more research is conclusive, it’s safe to say that blueberries, grapes, and goji berries have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help improve your eye health, and fish like wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, and cod provide structural support to cell membranes including those found in your eyes.
Vitamin B-12 and other B vitamins play a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions. Low levels of B-12 and other B vitamins such as vitamin B-6 and folate have been linked to depression.
B-12 is a very popular supplement at the moment, advocates claim that B-12 injections will have you feeling 17 years old again. While B-12 is shown to increase energy levels, feelings of well-being, as well as a decrease in stress and anxiety, this effect only occurs if you have low B vitamins.