In the United States, 40 to 50 percent of men and women 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 for 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 the various metabolic processes. However, a majority of people’s diets are not optimal. Thus, individuals require supplementation to fill in the gaps of diets.
Nutritional supplements come in various forms: tablets, capsules, pills, and even powders. You can even find them in ready-to-eat drinks and nutrition bars. Because these are not classified as a food nor drug, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the dietary supplement industry. Thus, it is important to pay attention to some important factors when you are looking to take supplements to determine whether the product and brand are 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 (A, C, E, etc).
Vitamins that are water soluble can be effectively dissolved in water. Because they can be dissolved in water, any excess consumption of these types of vitamins is going to be properly secreted directly from the body through urination.
Because the excess amounts of these types of vitamins are not stored in the body, it’s important to take these vitamins consistently on a daily basis. A majority of the daily vitamins that you will be taking will be of the water-soluble variety.
Water-soluble vitamins 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 vitamins that are absorbed through the intestinal tract of the body. These vitamins require fat lipids in order to be properly absorbed. Due to these vitamins being directly stored in the body instead of excreted, they are going to accumulate in the body with a persistent intake. Thus, fat-soluble vitamins should 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 Many studies have shown that those that suffer from a deficiency of these types of vitamins are at an increased risk for cancer.
Vitamin A (both Retinoids and Carotene)
This particular 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 and effective antioxidants. This is generally why you hear that eating carrots can lead to better vision, as carrots contain some of the highest amounts of carotene found in any food.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 works 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 is another vitamin that 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)
Vitamin B6 is there to help 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 which are known to help minimize the risk of heart disease. Along with this, its purpose is to assist in creating new cells in the body and help break down fatty acids and amino acids in the body. Because of this, it can help create red blood cells and protect nerve cells.
Biotin is also responsible for assisting with the conversion of turning 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 collagen in the body, 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 both metabolize and transport fats throughout the body.
Vitamin D is essential to the body as it assists in maintaining normal calcium and phosphorus levels in the body, which is meant to strengthen bones and teeth.
Vitamin E works primarily as an antioxidant in the body protecting cells.
Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)
Vitamin B9 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 is a crucial mineral that helps to 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 is another essential mineral that plays a crucial role in maintaining proper digestion. It balances out stomach acid in the intestines which help to break down food after consumption.
This is another essential mineral that 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 to strengthen your teeth and prevent dental decay.
This essential mineral helps assist in the overall function of thyroid hormone which works to complete a variety of tasks from helping regulate body temperature to maintaining proper nerve 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 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 problems in the United States.7 This is primarily because of the significant disparity between the diet and nutrition recommendations. A majority of individuals consume far too many empty nutrients and too little nutrient dense foods.
Key Benefits of Taking Nutritional Supplements
Prevent 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 various problems you might have as a result of deficiencies.
This includes iron deficiency, which affects over 25 percent of the world population.8 Having a deficiency of iron can lead to anemia which can have a negative impact on overall health including promoting exhaustion and immune system dysfunction.9 Other deficiencies that vitamin and mineral supplementation can combat are vitamin D and folic acid deficiencies.
Boost Energy Levels
A lot of individuals suffer from low energy levels whether related to a lack of sleep, diet, or a combination of the two. Various lifestyle factors along with dietary choices can impact the body’s natural energy levels. By supplementing with vitamins, you should 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 in energy production 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 you have sufficient energy production. While it can be found naturally in animal proteins, various people might require additional B12 supplementation through vitamin supplements.
For example, 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.10
Along with older adults, vegans 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 is a compound that is naturally found in various meats. It can effectively act as a natural solution for boosting energy levels because it works quickly. This is many weightlifters end up taking this supplement prior to working out, as it has shown an ability to improve not only strength but mass gains as well.12
Side Effects of Supplements
While vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins that you are going to want to get in your body, if you consume too much 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, you want to discuss taking vitamin E supplements with a registered health professional to ensure that you are not going to be putting yourself at risk.
While zinc is one of the most crucial minerals to get in your diet, if you take zinc in large amounts, it can lead to digestion issues. Not only can it lead to feelings of nausea, but it can even lead to cramps and diarrhea. Also, taking zinc without copper can end up leading to copper deficiency.13
Supplements for Specific Deficiencies
One of the main benefits that come from taking nutritional supplements is the ability to correct deficiencies of a particular vitamin. While it’s true that a majority of people that live in developed nations might not necessarily require a multivitamin or specific vitamins, there are specific instances where it is recommended or needed.
Folic Acid Deficiency
Any women of this age should be taking a multivitamin with folic acid or a folic acid supplement by itself to help protect against birth defects.14
Vitamin D Deficiency
There are various causes of vitamin D deficiency. For example, one of the causes is the fact that modern lifestyles are marked by decreased exposure to sunlight.
Even so, the amount of vitamin D your body produces upon exposure to the sun depends on a range of factors. Not only does use of sunscreen impact the ability to produce vitamin D, but so does the pigmentation of the skin. 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 percent of the recommended daily intake.
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 throughout the body is significantly lower than normal, which can lead to less oxygen being carried throughout the body. As a result, anyone experiencing iron deficiency is likely to experience fatigue or weakened immune system 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. Another good way to get iron in your diet would be to consume beans, various types of seeds, broccoli, and different leafy greens with high iron content 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 which can be the cause of several major health problems. This is primarily because iodine is crucial for maintaining normal thyroid function. Therefore, if you do not get sufficient amounts of iodine, your thyroid is not likely to function properly.
Because thyroid hormones are involved in many 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 regulation of metabolism.
The most common symptoms of this type of deficiency are weight gain, increased heart rate, and even shortness of breath.20
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 reduce the issue.21
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 bodies needs directly from a diet, supplementation, or both.
Individuals who are at an increased risk for experiencing 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 deficient in B12.22
When it comes to diet, vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal food sources. While there are plant sources, they are far 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 percent of vitamin B12 dietary supplements are actually absorbed in healthy individuals.23 This is typically why individuals experiencing significant vitamin B12 deficiencies are prescribed prescription medications administered via an intramuscular injection rather than simply nutritional supplements.24
Essentially, when the body fails to get enough calcium, it ends up using the calcium that is 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 more fragile bone structure that can lead to an increased risk of breakage or fracturing.
One of the biggest problems associated with calcium is that a majority of people simply do not get enough calcium through their daily diets. This has led to an increased prominence of osteoporosis in the population. This is especially true of elderly individuals who begin to suffer from decreased calcium absorption as they age.25
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 are not getting sufficient calcium through diet alone.26
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 are 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 can be found in various plant-based foods including carrots, peppers, and more.
While this deficiency is not entirely common in developed countries, it is much more prevalent in developing countries. In fact, it has been shown to affect a range of individuals including infants, young children, and pregnant women in developing countries.27
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, this vitamin A deficiency can also negatively affect immune system function
To get enough vitamin A through diet, you’ll be going to want to consume a diet full of colorful vegetables. Along with this, you’ll want to eat a good amount of leafy green vegetables.
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, an 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 failure of the liver function. Therefore, you will want to discuss vitamin A supplementation with your registered health professional.
Magnesium is responsible for everything from maintaining a 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 2006.28
Magnesium deficiency can lead to issues including heart disease, osteoporosis, and even 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, there are various essential oils that can be used to boost energy and mental clarity, consequently 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, Active, or Healthy MONQ.
There are many ways that nutritional deficiencies can negatively impact overall health, from inhibiting important bodily processes to causing hormone fluctuations, these deficiencies can build up to cause adverse health effects over time.
By optimizing your diet for proper nutritional intake, you should be able to significantly reduce vitamin or mineral deficiencies that you have. However, some deficiencies are simply unavoidable and some might be more prone to suffering from them than others.
For those that do have nutritional deficiencies, it’s important to first correct your diet to address these deficiencies, and then supplement with the given vitamin or mineral as needed. By speaking 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 provide yourself with the health benefits that vitamins provide a steer clear of the side effects. Generally, vitamin and mineral supplementation can be of great benefit, filling in the gaps that exist in your current diet.
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