Most health experts agree that getting the essential nutrients we need should come from food, but when that isn't possible turning to vitamins can help support what you're lacking. "Supplements are never a substitute for a balanced, healthful diet," says Dr. JoAnn Manson, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and professor of epidemiology at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "And they can be a distraction from healthy lifestyle practices that confer much greater benefits."
Why Vitamin Deficiencies Are Common
Chances are you or someone you know has a vitamin deficiency. The Biostation shares, "Nutrient deficiencies exist extensively among many members of the U.S. population. Rich, poor, well, or sick–92 percent of the population is suffering from at least one mineral or vitamin deficiency based on the Dietary Reference Intakes."
Dr. Soliman says, "In the United States, most people do not eat a healthy diet that has all of the important nutrients. The typical western diet consists mostly of processed foods that are high in salt and saturated fats. The average American also does not consume enough fruits or vegetables."
Dr. Tam says, "Vitamin deficiencies can be common because they can be caused by a number of factors, including poor nutrition, certain medical conditions, and a lack of access to healthy food. Additionally, some people may be at a higher risk of developing a vitamin deficiency due to their age, lifestyle, or other factors. For example, older adults, vegetarians, and pregnant women may be more likely to develop a vitamin deficiency."
Why We Need Vitamins to Survive
Dr. Tam explains, "Our bodies need certain vitamins to survive because these vitamins play essential roles in maintaining our health. Vitamins are essential nutrients that our bodies need to function properly. They help our bodies to grow and develop, and they also help to support a variety of bodily functions, such as the immune system and metabolism.
There are 13 essential vitamins that our bodies need to function properly. These include vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate). These vitamins can be found in a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. It is important for people to consume a balanced diet that includes a variety of these foods in order to get the essential vitamins they need. (Mighty Health's Dr. Eric Tam shares more insight into water-soluble vitamins (such as Vitamins C and B) here. Information on fat-soluble vitamins (such as Vitamin K, A, D, and E) is here.)
In addition to consuming a balanced diet, some people may also benefit from taking vitamin supplements. This is particularly important for people who are at a higher risk of developing a vitamin deficiency, such as older adults, pregnant women, and vegetarians. Or if you have done lab work indicating a vitamin deficiency, it becomes important to take supplements to replenish this deficit. It is important to talk to a doctor before starting any new supplement regimen."
Effective Ways to Use Vitamins to Stay Healthy
Also knowing where to store your vitamins is essential. "Dietary supplements are like a food; they are sensitive to light, heat and moisture," Duffy MacKay, senior vice president at the Council for Responsible Nutrition tells the Washington Post. "We recommend consumers store their supplements in a dry place in their original containers with the lids tightly closed, in a location that doesn't get a lot of sunlight or humidity."
In addition, knowing what time of day to take vitamins is key to the best absorption. "When people don't take vitamins the proper way, they don't see improvement," says family medicine doctor Rodolfo Perez-Gallardo, MD tells the Cleveland Clinic. "Your body can't fully absorb vitamins unless you know the best time to take them." Dr. Perez-Gallardo reveals how it's about timing you’re eating and drinking schedule with your vitamin routine.
What to Look for in Vitamins
Dr. Tam explains, "When looking for vitamins, there are a few quality checks that people should consider. These include:
- Make sure it is "USP Verified"—United States Pharmacopeia (USP), an independent organization that sets quality standards for dietary supplements.
- Make sure it is not expired: This is important because vitamins and other supplements can lose their effectiveness over time. It is best to choose a product that has not yet expired, or one with a long expiration date.
- Check the ingredients list: It is important to check the ingredients list to ensure that the product contains the vitamins and minerals that you are looking for. Additionally, you should avoid products that contain artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners, as these can be harmful if consumed in excess.
- Checking for any potential allergies: If you have any allergies, it is important to check the ingredients list to ensure that the product does not contain any ingredients that you are allergic to."
Dr. Soliman adds, "Ensure that it is made by a quality manufacturer and reputable source. Since vitamins are not regulated many companies do not have a verification system to ensure what is listed on the bottle is what is in the bottle. Make sure there are not a lot of fillers or contaminants such as heavy metals. Single ingredient supplements are much better and more likely to contain what is on the label than proprietary blends as those do not have to list out what is in there and you may have other items that should not be in there."
Gummy Vitamins Can Be Effective, But They Have More Sugar
Dr. Soliman explains, "Gummy vitamins are just as effective as non-gummy vitamins; however, they contain more sugar so those who must watch their sugar intake should be wary, as also those who are."
Dr. Tam tells us, "In regard to the types of vitamins, many people turn to gummy vitamins due to their taste and tolerability rather than the traditional multivitamins that come in the form of pills or capsules. One key difference between multivitamins and gummy multivitamins is that gummy vitamins may not contain all of the essential vitamins and minerals that a person needs. Additionally, gummy vitamins may contain added sugars and other ingredients that can be harmful if consumed in excess. It is important to carefully read the label and talk to a doctor before taking any supplement, including gummy multivitamins."
By Heather Newgen
Freelance Reporter / Journalist