Should I Use a Vitamin/Mineral Supplement?

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vitMaybe.  Maybe not.  It depends….

Vitamins are essential for good health – and not just a bit of vit C here or Vit B there – we need adequate amounts of every vitamin in order to obtain a level of optimum health.  The best way to ensure that you get enough of all of the vitamins is by eating a diet full of fruit and vegetables, making sure that you eat as wide a variety of foods as possible.  Choose fruit and vegetables that are in season and organic where possible.  Variety is key…Different plants contain different sets of vitamins and minerals.  The wider variety that you eat, the more vitamins you will get.

For those of us who are vegan, we usually do not struggle to get enough vitamins into our bodies.  That is why vegans are generally so energetic and full of life – they are nourished to the core.  Of course, this does not necessarily apply to all vegans.  Vegans who live primarily off processed foods and fast foods instead of whole foods, may suffer from vitamin deficiencies too.  Similarly, omnivorous folk who focus on a diet rich in plant-based goodness (with a bit of meat on the side) can also get more than adequate amounts of vitamins from their diet without having to take any type of supplement.  So whether you need a multivitamin or not is a personal decision based on how YOU eat.  With a good diet, a routine multivitamin is certainly not necessary.

However, there are some important exceptions that I would like to mention:

  • Always follow your doctors guidance if advised to take a certain supplement for a particular condition.  Certain medical conditions make it necessary to take in more than the usual recommended daily allowance for certain vitamins/minerals.
  • Plant foods, even when rich in iron, contain a form of iron that is less easily absorbed by the body than meat-based iron.  Nevertheless, many vegans, when eating a plant-based diet rich in iron, are able to maintain their iron levels without a supplement.  Some people, however, struggle to extract enough iron from the plant-based foods to meet their requirements and they may need to take an iron supplement daily.  Many women (even meat-eating women) lose a lot of blood during their monthly periods which causes them to become iron deficient despite a diet containing the recommended amount of iron.  So in some cases, iron supplementation is needed irrespective of whether you are vegan or not.
  • Any woman who is pregnant or planning a pregnancy in the near future would do well to use a pregnancy vitamin supplement.  Your little angel is going to be leaching your vitamins/minerals from you in order to grow big and strong, so give the little guy/gal some help:)
  • All vegans should use a B12 supplement.  In an ideal world we should be getting it from the soil that sticks to some of the veggies, but nowadays, if you don’t eat meat, you don’t get enough of it from the soil.  Some nutritional yeast, soya milk and some cereals are fortified with Vit B12, but it is still recommended to routinely take your B12 supplement daily.
  • A plant-based diet can be rich in calcium if you choose your foods carefully.  However, in order to make the recommended daily allowance for calcium on a plant-based diet, I find that the portions of calcium rich food needs to be quite large and many vegans do not get enough calcium therefore from their diet alone.  I suggest keeping a food diary for a few days and then calculate more or less how much calcium you are taking in per day.  If inadequate, take a calcium supplement.
  • Vitamin D is another vitamin to look out for.  More and more patients are being found to be deficient in this vitamin.  Nowadays with more time spent indoors, in cars and less time spent outdoors in the sun, we often do not get our daily dose.  Many foods are fortified with vitamin D but it is nevertheless a good idea to have your vit D levels checked annually.  Do not supplement vit D without first checking your levels though as this vitamin is toxic in overdose.
  • You may chose to use a supplement for a particular reason. eg.  I prescribe evening primrose oil for many of my patients who suffer from premenstrual tension and peri-menopausal mood swings.  Once again, consult with your doctor regarding these matters.

To summarise:

  • Not everyone needs vitamin supplements – it depends entirely on the quality of your diet.
  • Some people, despite the “perfect diet” may need to take certain supplements because of a particular condition/illness.
  • All pregnant women or women who are planning a pregnancy, should be on a pregnancy-suitable multivitamin.
  • Vegans, like everyone else, should see their doctor for an annual check-up.  Ask the doctor to also check your vit D, vit B12 and iron levels.
  • Vegans need to be aware of their calcium intake.  Checking your blood calcium level can be misleading as your body will try to maintain a normal blood calcium level at any cost – it will steal calcium from your bones to keep your calcium blood level normal.  Therefore, rather keep a food diary and calculate whether you are getting your recommended daily allowance of calcium or not.  If not, supplement or change your diet.

This website has very useful information on all the various vitamins.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”
Hippocrates

Dr T

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