How do you get all the nutrients you need every day? The answer of course is a healthy, balanced diet. The right food gives you the full dose of minerals, vitamins, fiber and antioxidants. Why then do you take vitamin supplements or feel a desperate need to take them? The answer is that your diet may be lacking some essential elements especially if you are grabbing some fast food, have little time to cook and even less time to go out and get those lovely fresh veggies and fruit. So, here are 6 things you need to know before buying and taking a multivitamin supplement.
1. Get up to date on recent scandals
This latest scandal relates to herbal supplements being sold in top retails stores which do not contain the actual herbs on the label! The main problem seems to be with lesser known brands which were substituting the herbs with garlic, beans, rice and wild carrot. Bottles of tablets supposedly selling Valerian root (normally a sedative to help you sleep) contained no Valerian at all. Similar problems were found with Gingko biloba, and St. John’s Wort. The stores involved were Walgreens, Walmart, Target and GNC. The main problem is that the FDA does not regulate supplements like medicines and that has led to unscrupulous manufacturers making fake products. Watch out for so called ‘natural’ products as 98% of these actually contain synthetic compounds and are anything but natural.
2. Don’t overdose on these vitamins
There is increasing evidence that taking too many of these vitamin supplements can actually do more harm than good. There are quite a few studies on this. For example, the Iowa Women’s Health Study examined over 38,000 women and found that taking multivitamins was linked to a 2.4% increased risk of death! Not an enormous percentage but still alarming.
Basically, you have to decide what the deficiencies in your diet are, what your special needs are and not overdose. Pregnant women may need a multivitamin. Some patients recovering from a chronic illness may feel better after taking them for a period. Women who are trying to get pregnant may benefit from a Vitamin B containing folic acid. Sports fans may need supplementation when they have to do intense training and glucosamine sulphate helps protect joints.
As regards overdosing, make sure you look out for the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) and DV (Daily Value) on the label and try not to go over that limit. It must be said that when treating osteoporosis, the RDA for Vitamin D is only 600 units but the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends people over 50 should take up to 1,000 units.
3. Do your homework
You can ask your doctor what to take but if you do some homework, it is a great eye opener and can help you decide how long you should be taking a certain vitamin and if it is really necessary. One great way of doing this is to have a look at the site of the company selling these vitamins. You can see immediately whether they have published studies available online about the proven benefits of the vitamins. That is a very good sign that the company is taking its clients’ health seriously. Other sources may be the WebMD site and MedlinePlus.
4. The famous Vitamin D
Did you know that most of your vitamin D supply will come from sun exposure? In fact up to 90% of what the body needs comes from sunlight. Now, if you do not get much sunlight, you may well have to take an extra vitamin D supplement. You can get a limited supply of this vitamin through some foods such as tuna, sardines and also fortified cereals.
If you are worried about bone health, osteoporosis and rheumatism, you may need vitamin D. It is also used as a supplement for high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, asthma, bronchitis and PMS.
Vitamin D can also help you absorb more calcium from food which is great for bone health. Canada now endorses calcium rich and vitamin D foods as helping to treat osteoporosis. They even go so far as to recommend up to a maximum of 2,000 units for the over 50s. Calcium can also help you sleep better if taken in the evening as it is a muscle relaxant.
5. Guide to buying vitamin supplements
If you are buying a herbal or vitamin supplement, you should do the following:
- Look out for the label GMP. This means the company is following the Good Manufacturing Practice
- Check to see if they’re the NSF International, US Pharmacopeia, or Consumer Lab labels – these mean that the actual ingredients inside are verified!
- Supplements manufactured outside the USA are not normally regulated and they may contain toxic ingredients which you will never know about until it is too late.
Remember the bottom line is that supplements and herbs can cause side effects and many people are overdosing on these or taking them when it is not necessary at all. The FDA received 6,300 reports of serious incidences associated with supplements in a five year period from to 2012.
6. Which form is best for you?
Having decided to take a multivitamin or another vitamin supplement, you have to decide which form is best for you. Effervescent tablets can contain up to 1 gram of salt per tablet so you should keep that in mind if you have to limit your salt intake because of high blood pressure, for example.
Another thing to bear in mind is the difference between water-soluble vitamins and the fat-soluble ones. The latter should be taken less often because they are not excreted. They are usually stored in the liver so too many of these can damage this vital organ. The most common fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E and K. Water soluble ones such as B and C are usually washed out of the body so they need to be taken on a more regular basis.
Now that you know a little bit more about vitamins, you should be able to make better choices when you buy and take these supplements.
Featured photo credit: Pills Vitamins Macro April 22, 2012 3/ Steven Depolo via flickr.com