We all want to look and feel our best while having enough energy to do all the things we have to do. With our busy lifestyles, one of the things that often gets pushed to the bottom of the list of priorities is diet and nutrition. We start skipping meals or eating on the go. It’s easy to see why 29% of Australian’s report taking at least one dietary supplement to help look after their health.
But could these vitamin supplements be doing us more harm than good, and are they really necessary?
What are vitamins and why are they important?
Vitamins are nutrients our bodies need to grow and function properly. Our bodies have thousands of chemical reactions going on in each cell and we need vitamins to keep these processes “ticking”.
Vitamins are either fat-soluble or water-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the fatty tissues of the body and the liver. They’re absorbed through the intestinal tract with the help of fats, or lipids, and can stay in the body as reserves for days, sometimes for months. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are examples of fat-soluble vitamins.
Vitamin C and all the B vitamins, on the other hand, are water-soluble vitamins and because they’re expelled in urine they need to be replaced more often than fat-soluble ones.
Vitamins help with our
- immune system
- heart, digestive and nervous system function
- cholesterol levels
- skin and tissue repair
- ability to process food to energy
- ability to make red blood cells
- nervous system development in pregnancy
- bones and teeth
- ability to absorb other vitamins and minerals
Where do we get our vitamins?
The best place to get our daily dose of vitamins is from our diet, so eating a variety of healthy food is important.
The best sources of vitamins include:
- seasonal fruits, including citrus and berries
- meat and poultry
- oily fish, like salmon
- dairy products, like milk and cheese
- oats, rice and legumes
- leafy green vegetables
- vitamin enriched, wholegrain breads and cereals
- nuts and seeds
Getting our vitamins from our diet also ensures we get other good things, such as fibre and nutrients, too.Eating a healthy, balanced diet is the best way to get our daily dose of vitamins. Click To Tweet
Who’s most at risk of vitamin deficiencies?
Some people struggle to eat healthily, while for others a healthy diet still might not give them all of the vitamins they need.
The people most at risk of not getting enough vitamins from their diets are:
- Women who are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant: They might benefit from taking Vitamin B9 (folate) and Vitamin D supplements, which are an essential part of a baby’s development.
- People on a vegan diet: They may need a Vitamin B12 or D supplement.
- People with particular medical conditions: It’s best to speak to your health care provider to get information about your specific needs.
- People who have reduced sun exposure: For example, women who wear a niqab or burqa are at risk of lower Vitamin D levels; as are African migrants, and they may benefit from Vitamin D supplements.
- People who do not eat enough fruits and vegetables: Surprising as it may seem, scurvy is making a comeback in Australia. So if your diet is lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables you may want to consider a Vitamin C supplement.
- Post-menopausal women and older adults: They may benefit from Vitamin D supplements to help maintain bone health.
- People with gut health issues: People who live with conditions like Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or chronic diarrhea, might benefit from a supplement as these conditions can interfere with the absorption of vitamins from food.
Do I need to take a multivitamin or supplement?
It depends, is the short answer. Like most things in life, there are positives and negatives to taking a multivitamin or supplement. Your own individual circumstances will determine whether a supplement is beneficial or not.
Benefits of taking supplements
While eating a healthy diet is the best way to get the vitamins you need, multivitamins and supplements may be helpful if your nutrient needs aren’t being met.
If your diet is poor, or if you have an existing health issue, then taking a multivitamin or supplement may help in the short-term to:
- meet your nutritional needs if your diet is poor, or if you’re a fussy eater
- lower your risk of a vitamin deficiency
- improve how your body works and keep your immune system healthy
If you have a particular health issue, then it’s always best to discuss your nutritional needs with your doctor first.Are you at risk of not getting enough vitamins from your diet? Click To Tweet
Risks and downsides of taking multivitamins and supplements
For some people, vitamin supplements may do more harm than good.
Some potential risks include:
- Overdosing or toxicity: It is possible to overdose on a particular vitamin if you take too many or overload your system, particularly if your vitamin level is adequate to begin with
- Nerve damage: High levels of vitamin B6 have been linked to some types of nerve damage
- Diarrhoea: High doses of vitamin C can cause diarrhoea
- Birth defects: High doses of vitamin A have been linked to birth defects, as well as central nervous system, liver, bone and skin disorders.
- Overspending: If you already eat well and have an adequate supply of water-soluble vitamins in your system, then you’re probably flushing your money down the toilet (literally)
How do you know if vitamin supplements are right for you?
Vitamin supplements are useful if you’re deficient in a particular vitamin or mineral. The only way to know for certain if you are deficient in a particular area is to have a full blood test.
If you’re concerned about your diet in one of the higher risk groups, then it’s a good idea to discuss your diet and nutrient profile with your doctor or an accredited dietitian or nutritionist.
New vitamin-based health tests on the way from MyHealthTest
We know lots of people like to track their own health indicators from the comfort and convenience of home. And we’ve received a number of requests to add vitamin-based health tests to our portfolio of at-home health tests.
So we’re pleased to advise that we’re currently working with the University of Canberra to developing an at-home blood test for Vitamin D, Vitamin B9 (folate) and B12. This will make it a lot easier to track your vitamin levels with our simple finger prick blood test from home.
If you’d like to be advised when the new tests are available, just sign-up to our monthly newsletter, and you’ll be one of the first to know.