In the United States, 40 to 50% of individuals over the age of 50 regularly use multivitamin supplements.1 As a result, the industry brings in annual sales of over $11 billion. However, many still question whether taking nutritional supplements is beneficial to overall health.
While it’s true that the best way to obtain essential vitamins is through the consumption of food, that doesn’t necessarily mean that synthetic vitamins aren’t beneficial. The key is not only obtaining high-quality vitamins but also taking in the right vitamins based on your body’s needs. Information for helping you do just that is highlighted below.
About Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins are organic compounds that the body use for a range of metabolic processes.2 A well-optimized diet features all of the vitamins and minerals that the body requires for these processes. However, the majority of people’s diets are not optimal. Thus, individuals require supplementation to fill in gaps in their diet.
Nutritional supplements come in various forms: tablets, capsules, pills, and even powders. You can also find them in ready-made drinks and nutrition bars. Because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the dietary supplement industry, it is important to pay attention to some important factors when you are looking to take supplements. This helps ensure that the product and brand you choose to use are beneficial and reputable.
Additionally, it’s important to remember that not all vitamins are made equal and are instead divided into two primary categories: water and fat-soluble vitamins. These categories are further subdivided into specific types of vitamins.
Vitamins that are water-soluble can be dissolved in water. Therefore, excess consumption of these vitamins results in excretion through urination.
Because excess amounts of these vitamins are not stored in the body, it’s important to take these vitamins consistently on a daily basis. A majority of daily vitamins are water-soluble. These include vitamin C, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, biotin, and pantothenic acid.3
Research has shown that a diet deficient in these vitamins can lead to health issues including but not limited to cancer and organ malfunction.
Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed by the intestinal tract. These vitamins require lipids, or fats, in order to be properly absorbed. Because these vitamins are stored in the body instead of excreted, they accumulate in the body with a persistent intake. Thus, fat-soluble vitamins should typically not be taken on a daily basis and excess intake of these types of vitamins can be dangerous.
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Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, and E.4 Studies have shown that individuals who are consistently deficient in these types of vitamins are at an increased risk for cancer.
Vitamin A (Retinoids and Carotene)
This vitamin is one of the most important for a range of reasons. Not only is it essential for vision, but it plays a critical role in the development of the immune system. Along with this, carotenoids have been shown to be powerful antioxidants. This is generally why you hear that eating carrots can lead to better vision, as carrots contain high amounts of carotene.5
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
This particular vitamin helps convert the food that you consume into energy that your body can use. Vitamin B1 essential for everything from hair health to healthy nerve function.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
This particular vitamin also works to convert food into energy. It’s necessary for healthy hair, blood, skin, and brain function.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Vitamin B3 is another vitamin that works to convert food into energy for the body. This vitamin is also essential for proper nervous system function.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
This vitamin also works to convert food into energy for the body. It also helps create lipids (fat) in the body and assists in the creation of neurotransmitters, hemoglobin, and steroid hormones.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Pyridoxine helps convert tryptophan into niacin and serotonin, which can help regulate sleep, appetite, and overall mood.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
This vitamin works to lower homocysteine levels in the body. Along with this, it assists in creating new cells and helps break down fatty acids and amino acids. Because of this, it can help create red blood cells and protect nerve cells.
Biotin is responsible for assisting with the conversion of food into energy for the body. It does so by helping synthesize glucose. Along with this, it can help with the breakdown of fatty acids. This is one of the more common vitamins people generally take to improve hair, skin, and bone health.
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
Vitamin C can help promote the production of collagen, protect cells from oxidation by acting as an antioxidant, process serotonin, and boost overall immune system function.
This is an essential vitamin that helps create and release acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is designed to aid in brain and nerve functions. In addition, it helps metabolize and transport fats throughout the body.
This vitamin is essential to the body as it assists in maintaining normal calcium and phosphorus levels, which strengthen bones and teeth.
This vitamin works primarily as an antioxidant that protects cells.
Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)
Folic acid plays an important role in the development of new cells.
Vitamin K is crucial for proper vitamin D absorption as it activates both calcium and proteins.
Calcium helps build and protect bones and teeth. Along with this, it can help with a variety of bodily functions including facilitating muscle contractions, reducing blood clotting, and improving nerve impulse transmission.
This essential mineral plays a crucial role in maintaining proper digestion. It balances out stomach acid in the intestines which helps break down food after consumption.
This mineral works to improve insulin action in the body. Because of this, it can effectively work to maintain proper insulin levels, leading to more stable blood sugar levels.
Copper plays a crucial role in metabolizing iron. Thus, it can help create and facilitate overall red blood cell function. Additionally, it plays an important role in immune system function.
This is an essential mineral for sustaining optimal oral health as it can help strengthen your teeth and prevent dental decay.
This essential mineral helps assist in the overall function of the thyroid hormone which works to complete a variety of tasks from helping regulate body temperature to maintaining proper nervous system function. Iodine deficiencies can result in metabolism malfunction.
Iron can help maintain hemoglobin in red blood cells, and it is necessary for maintaining proper neurotransmitter function. Because women can lose significant amounts of iron during menstruation, it is important for some women to supplement with iron.
Magnesium is crucial for various chemical reactions in the body, in addition to helping regulate proper blood pressure and assisting in the absorption of calcium.
This mineral works as a powerful antioxidant in the body. It can also help optimize thyroid function.
Zinc helps with everything from creating new cells to freeing excess vitamin A from being stored in the liver.
Why Diet Alone Isn’t Enough
Unfortunately, a majority of diets do not provide sufficient intake of either vitamins or minerals. In fact, according to U.S Dietary Guidelines, there are different nutrients in foods that are simply not being consumed in sufficient amounts. As a result, the rates of chronic diseases due to poor quality diets have increased. These diseases include cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.6
Additionally, the standard American diet (SAD) has long been implicated in contributing to various health issues in the United States.7 This is primarily because of the significant disparity between diet and nutrition recommendations. A majority of individuals consume far too many empty nutrients and too few nutrient-dense foods.
Key Benefits of Taking Nutritional Supplements
Prevents Nutrient Deficiencies
One of the key benefits that you can gain from taking nutritional supplements is the ability to combat nutritional deficiencies. Whether the deficiencies are a direct result of your lifestyle or diet, taking essential vitamins and minerals through supplementation can help counteract issues you may encounter as a result of nutritional deficiencies.
Among these is iron deficiency, which affects over 25% of the world population.8 Having an iron deficiency can lead to anemia which can result in exhaustion and immune system dysfunction.9 Other deficiencies that vitamin and mineral supplementation can combat are vitamin D and folic acid deficiencies.
Boosts Energy Levels
A lot of individuals suffer from low energy levels from lack of sleep, poor diet, or some combination of the two. Various lifestyle factors, along with dietary choices, can impact the body’s natural energy levels. By supplementing with vitamins, you may be able to improve natural energy levels.
Some of the best vitamins for boosting energy levels include vitamin B12 and creatine. Vitamin B12 is one of the very best nutritional supplements that you can incorporate into your routine if you are lacking energy because it directly impacts energy levels. This vitamin ultimately helps convert the food that you eat into energy that the cells can use.
Because of this, the amount of vitamin B12 you have in your body dictates whether or not your body produces sufficient energy. While B12 occurs naturally in animal proteins, some people might require additional B12 supplementation.
For instance, older adults have a much more difficult time absorbing adequate amounts of vitamin B12 from food sources primarily because they are unable to produce enough stomach acid required for absorbing the vitamin.10Additionally, those who eat a plant-based diet may also find it difficult to consume enough vitamin B12 because they do not consume animal foods, which are the primary dietary source of the vitamin.11
On the other hand, creatine occurs naturally in various meats. It can effectively act as a natural solution for boosting energy levels because it works quickly. This is why many weightlifters end up taking this supplement prior to working out, as it has been shown to improve strength and mass gains.12
Side Effects of Supplements
While vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins, if you consume excess vitamin D, you could end up increasing your risk of developing kidney stones. To ensure that you are not putting yourself at increased risk of developing kidney stones, you should be discussing vitamin D supplementation with your registered health professional.
One of the side effects that can come along with taking vitamin E supplements is blood thinning. While this could be good to prevent blood clots, if you take it in large enough amounts, it can put you at increased risk for excessive bleeding if you get cut. Because of this, it’s important to discuss taking vitamin E supplements with a registered health professional.
While zinc is a crucial mineral to have in your diet, excess zinc can lead to digestion issues, such as nausea, cramps, and diarrhea. Also, taking zinc without copper can result in copper deficiency.13
Supplements for Specific Deficiencies
One of the main benefits that come with taking nutritional supplements is the ability to correct specific vitamin deficiencies. While it’s true that a majority of people who live in developed nations might not require a multivitamin or specific vitamins, there are specific instances where it is recommended or needed.
Folic Acid Deficiency
It is recommended that women of reproductive age take a multivitamin with folic acid or a folic acid supplement to help protect against birth defects.14
Vitamin D Deficiency
A key cause of vitamin D deficiency is reduced exposure to sunlight. Additionally, the amount of vitamin D your body produces upon exposure to the sun depends on a range of factors such as sunscreen use and skin pigmentation. Because darker skin offers less penetration for UVB sun-rays, individuals with darker skin require more exposure to natural sunlight to produce sufficient amounts of vitamin D.15
Additionally, you can’t get enough vitamin D through diet alone. While there are foods fortified with vitamin D, the concentration in them is too low to make a difference. To produce enough vitamin D, you’ll need to expose yourself to sunlight for proper vitamin D synthesis. Without sufficient exposure to sunlight on a daily basis, you will likely become vitamin D deficient.
If you’re going to be supplementing for vitamin D, you’ll want to invest in a supplement with vitamin D3 with added K2 for proper absorption. Another good option for supplementation would be cod liver oil, which contains over 220% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin D.
This is a deficiency that impacts a lot of individuals worldwide. In fact, iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies, affecting over a quarter of the world’s population.16
The main issue for individuals experiencing an iron deficiency is anemia. This is when red blood cell quantity in the body is significantly lower than normal, which can lead to less oxygen transport throughout the body. As a result, individuals with iron deficiency are likely to experience fatigue or weakened immune function.17
The best dietary sources of iron come primarily from meat sources. You can get sufficient iron intake from foods like red meat, organ meat, and various types of seafood. Other iron-rich foods include beans, seeds, broccoli, and dark leafy greens like kale and spinach.
You should never supplement with iron unless you are fully confident that you require it because excess iron can be detrimental to your health. Thus, you should discuss any sort of iron supplementation with your registered health professional.
This is another common deficiency that can be the cause of several major health issues. This is primarily because iodine is crucial for maintaining optimal thyroid function. Therefore, if you do not get sufficient amounts of iodine, you may experience thyroid dysfunction.
Because thyroid hormones are involved in different bodily processes that are important for optimal bodily function, you are likely to experience significant health consequences if your thyroid isn’t functioning properly. Thyroid hormones are not only responsible for brain development, but also body growth, bone maintenance, and metabolic regulation.
Nevertheless, this is easily one of the most prevalent deficiencies throughout the world, affecting about one-third of the world’s population.18
Iodine deficiency can cause weight gain, increased heart rate, and shortness of breath.19
To get sufficient amounts of iodine through diet, you can consume a diet full of fresh fish, full-fat yogurt, eggs, and seaweed. Additionally, this deficiency is so prevalent that many countries have fortified table salt with iodine to remedy the issue.20
Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12 is necessary for proper brain and nerve function. However, the biggest issue when it comes to B12 is that the body doesn’t naturally produce it. Because of this, individuals must acquire the required amount the body needs directly from diet, supplementation, or both.
Individuals who are at an increased risk of B12 deficiency are elderly people. Because the ability to absorb vitamin B12 decreases significantly with age due to not having the proper amount of stomach acid, it can leave older individuals B12 deficient.21
When it comes to diet, animal foods are the primary sources of B12. While there are plant sources, they are less common. You can also find vitamin B12 available as a dietary supplement. However, one of the primary issues associated with dietary supplementation of vitamin B12 is the body’s inability to absorb a significant amount of B12 at one time.
In fact, research shows that only around 2% of vitamin B12 dietary supplements are actually absorbed in healthy individuals.22 This is typically why individuals experiencing significant vitamin B12 deficiencies are prescribed prescription medications administered via an intramuscular injection rather than simply nutritional supplements.23
When the body fails to get enough calcium, it uses calcium stored in the bones instead. As a result, individuals who suffer from calcium deficiency are at an increased risk for developing osteoporosis. This is a condition where one experiences a more fragile bone structure that can lead to an increased risk of breakage or fracturing.
One of the biggest issues with calcium is that a majority of people simply do not get enough calcium through their daily diets. This has led to an increased risk of osteoporosis in the population. This is especially true of elderly individuals who begin to suffer from decreased calcium absorption as they age.24
In order to get sufficient amounts of calcium through your diet, you should be consuming a diet full of fresh boned fish, full-fat dairy products, and leafy green vegetables.
And while it’s certainly better to get your calcium through food rather than supplements, if you are not getting enough calcium through your diet, you can take calcium supplements in tablet or pill form, which have been shown to have positive effects on individuals who do not get sufficient calcium through diet.25
Vitamin A Deficiency
Vitamin A is one of the fat- and water-soluble vitamins essential for proper cellular function. It works to help maintain teeth, bones, and skin. Along with this, it helps produce the pigment in the eyes that is important for good vision.
There are two distinct forms of vitamin A. One is fat-soluble, which is naturally occurring in animal products and dairy. The other is water-soluble and occurs in plant-based foods, such as carrots and peppers.
While this deficiency is not entirely common in developed countries, it is much more prevalent in developing countries. In fact, it affects a range of individuals including infants, young children, and pregnant women in developing countries.26
This type of deficiency can ultimately lead to severe issues. Not only can it lead to temporary and permanent eye disorders, but it can even lead to blindness. Unfortunately, vitamin A deficiency is one of the primary causes of blindness throughout the world. Along with this, vitamin A deficiency can also negatively affect immune system function
To get enough vitamin A through diet, you’ll want to consume colorful vegetables and leafy greens.
If you’re going to be taking vitamin A supplements, you want to stick to taking beta-carotene as it is water-soluble and you are unlikely to overdose with it. At worst, overconsumption of this type of vitamin A will turn your skin orange whereas an overdose of fat-soluble vitamin A can lead to toxicity and liver failure. Therefore, you will want to discuss vitamin A supplementation with your registered health professional.
Magnesium is responsible for everything from maintaining proper bone structure to optimizing enzyme reactions in the body. According to a 2012 study, almost half of the population consumed less than the required dose of magnesium from food between 2005 and 2006.27
Magnesium deficiency can lead to issues including heart disease, osteoporosis, and type 2 diabetes. Some of the most common symptoms of magnesium deficiency include muscle cramps, restless leg syndrome, severe migraines, and overall fatigue.
In order to receive sufficient amounts of magnesium through diet, you’ll want to consume plenty of leafy green vegetables, dark chocolate, and nuts. Additionally, magnesium supplements are also available. If you’re going to be taking magnesium supplements, you’ll want to take a calcium supplement along with it because it requires calcium for proper absorption.
Essential Oils for the Symptoms of Vitamin or Mineral Deficiencies
Though essential oils won’t be able to restore the balance of vitamins and minerals in your body, when paired with the proper supplementation that you’ve discussed with a medical professional, essential oils can alleviate the symptoms of some of these deficiencies until your supplementation routine begins to kick in.
For example, one of the primary issues that people might experience when they have a vitamin B12 deficiency is brain fog. Luckily, some essential oils can boost energy and mental clarity, relieving brain fog.
Lavender is another essential oil that can be used to help with the symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency. Not only is it going to help reduce stress levels which can play a role in balancing out the body and mind, but it can help promote better sleep which can help individuals who might be suffering from sleep-wake rhythm disorders.30,31
Beyond the essential oils highlighted above, there is a range of other essential oils that can promote relaxation, boost immune system function, support heart health, and provide a wide range of additional benefits. These essential oils can be used topically after dilution with a carrier oil or aromatically in a room diffuser or personal aromatherapy diffuser like Zen, Focus, or Relieve.
There are many ways that nutritional deficiencies can negatively impact overall health, from inhibiting important bodily processes to causing hormone fluctuations.
By optimizing your diet for proper nutritional intake, you should be able to significantly reduce vitamin or mineral deficiencies. However, some deficiencies are simply unavoidable and some might be more prone to experiencing them than others.
For those who do have nutritional deficiencies, it’s important to first correct your diet to address these deficiencies, and then supplement with vitamins or minerals as needed. By consulting with your doctor and conducting the proper tests, you should be able to figure out exactly what vitamin or mineral deficiencies you may have and determine the best way to correct them.
Though there are many factors to be aware of when it comes to taking nutritional supplements, with the proper medical consultation, you can experience the health benefits that vitamins may provide by filling in any gaps in your diet.
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