Vitamins, minerals, and supplements: proper use and today’s marketplace
Posted: October 19, 2012
In this article, I will define vitamins and minerals, and uncover the facts about supplementation and its proper usage.
Vitamins and minerals are essential to the proper growth and functioning of our bodies. There are 13 essential vitamins: A, D, E, K, which are the fat soluble vitamins (dissolve in fat) and the water-soluble vitamins C and B vitamins (dissolve in water). Fat soluble vitamins are stored in your body, water soluble are not stored in significant amounts. You can get these vitamins from the foods you eat and some are made in the body (D,K). Each vitamin has a role in the body. (Medline Plus, 2012)
Minerals are also essential to the body’s normal functioning and are also obtained through diet. Minerals are classified into two groups: macro-minerals and micro-minerals (or trace minerals). Macro-minerals are those minerals which your body needs in large amounts. These minerals are: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride. Micro-minerals are the minerals which your body only needs in small, or trace, amounts. These minerals are: iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, fluoride and selenium. (Medline Plus, 2012)
The best way to reach your nutrient requirements is through a healthy, well-balanced diet containing a variety of foods from each of the food groups. However, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), many Americans are not reaching all of their nutrient requirements with their diet. Many are lacking in certain nutrients, such as, calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and E. (US Dept. of Agriculture, 2010) One reason someone may not be able to meet all of their nutrient requirements could be diet preferences. An example of this is vegetarians and vegans, who often have trouble meeting requirements for iron due to the lack of meat in their diet. Some cultures may have this issue too if their diet restricts certain foods. Pregnant woman are recommended to be supplemented with a multivitamin containing extra iron during pregnancy for optimal growth of the fetus. All women of childbearing age are recommended to take a folic acid supplement in order to store adequate folate in the body in order to combat the incidence of neural tube defects. Persons aged 50 years or older are recommended to take a multivitamin in order to ensure adequate calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 intake. Also, those suffering from illness, disease, and other conditions that may affect vitamin and mineral needs and the absorption of these may need additional supplementation in order to meet nutrient requirements and promote healing. (Duff, 2012)
Supplements have gained popularity, touting benefits such as heart disease and cancer prevention, weight loss, athletic performance and endurance, just to name a few. However, caution should always be used when starting on a supplement and, as always, one should consult their doctor before starting on any form of supplementation. Supplements are not regulated as stringently by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as food and drugs are, so there may be risk that certain supplements may either not do what they intend to do, or may even cause harm. Supplements are allowed to make claims stating that their ingredients may support a healthy heart, for example, but these claims may not be completely unsubstantiated and must be followed by the disclaimer “These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease.” (Food and Drug Administration, 2012)
Recently, a systematic review and meta-analysis of 20 studies looking at the risk of heart attack, stroke, and sudden death as it relates to omega 3 fatty acid supplementation found that the risk was not lowered by this supplementation. (Rizos et. al, 2012) Even more shocking was a Consumer Reports article that pointed out some risks when taking dietary supplements: “Between 2007 and mid-April 2012, the Food and Drug Administration received more than 6,300 reports of serious adverse events linked to dietary supplements, including vitamins and herbs. The reports include 115 deaths and more than 2,100 hospitalizations.” The report went on to reveal that some supposedly natural products are laced with the same active ingredients as prescription drugs, which may induce unwanted side effects. The report named supplements for body building, enhancing sexual performance, and losing weight the most likely to be laced. (CNN Health, 2012)
In the high paced, all-or-nothing world of today, consumers may mistakenly come to the conclusion that abundance is a good thing when it comes to getting all of your essential nutrients. This is not true—there are some nutrients that can actually cause harm when consumed in excess. It is important to remember that there is never a “quick-fix” for health and that good nutrition is all about the balance of nutrients in your body, making sure you have the right equation to nourish yourself adequately and ensure optimal functioning. As always, consult your doctor before starting on any supplementation regime and talk to a registered dietitian about ways to maintain health through your diet.
- Dietetic Intern with Penn State Extension, Northumberland County