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Food For Thought: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly Of Vitamin Supplements

Nutritional or Dietary supplements have become a part of our modern life as there is little time to opt for healthy and homely meals, let alone time to eat properly. During the pandemic, there has also been an exponential growth in the supplement business as people rush to the pharmacy to buy vitamin and mineral supplements to enhance their immunity. But have you ever wondered how beneficial these dietary supplements might be? 

Who Needs Vitamin Supplements?

Who do you think is in dire need of consuming supplements? Let’s look on to the list given below.

  • Women of reproductive age (require majorly vitamin D and Iron and Folic acid supplements)
  • Pregnant/ Lactating women (majorly require Iron and folic acid supplements)
  • People with darker complexion or less exposure to the sun (require vitamin D supplements)
  • Vegetarians (require vitamin B12)
  • Elderly population
  • People who are seriously ill/ disabled/ hospitalised

Now that you know who requires dietary supplements the more, let us look through the common dietary supplements used.

Vitamin Supplements That Are Commonly Used

Vitamin supplements might be taken as in a combination of the below vitamins or as a single vitamin for better bioavailability. Read on to know more about vitamin supplementation.

1. Vitamin C Supplements

This is a commonly used vitamin supplement, either used alone or in combination with other vitamins and minerals. It is usually used for increasing immunity and its anti-inflammatory properties. Daily recommended amounts would range from 75-90mgs, with smokers requiring addition of extra 36mgs.

2. Vitamin D Supplements

Vitamin D is the most deficient nutrient in Indians because of our complexion, our clothing (that covers our whole body) and also due to usage of sunscreens that block the skin’s exposure to sunlight. Patients may be recommended to consume tablets ranging from 400 to 2000 IU of this vitamin. It is important to not consume large doses of Vitamin D tablets on a daily basis as it can lead to toxicity. Consult a physician/ dietician before consumption.

3. Folic Acid Supplements

Folic acid is required especially for pregnant women or women who are planning for a baby to prevent spinal defects (like spina bifida) in the baby. It is necessary to note that women who are planning to get pregnant should start consuming folic acid tablets to prevent the risk of neural defects from occurring. About 400mcgs of Folic acid would be enough.

4. Vitamin A Supplements

Vitamin A is required for eye health, immunity and it also has antioxidant properties. Vitamin A is stored in the body so you can easily obtain it from fruits or leafy vegetables and not worry about being deficient in this vitamin. Around 700-900mcgs of this vitamin would be required. Some supplements may indicate the Vitamin A content in them by using IU (International Units). About 3000 IU of Vitamin A is enough. Large doses of Vitamin A can lead to toxicity

5. Vitamin E Supplements

Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant and helps in neutralizing free radicals. Vitamin E is usually obtained from your diet and is not that essential to be taken in the form of supplements. The daily requirement of Vitamin E is around 15 to 22mgs. Synthetic tablets might also contain 1500-2200 IU.

6. Vitamin K Supplements

Vitamin K helps prevent blood clotting and is also involved in the maintenance of bone density. Vitamin K is present abundantly in green leafy vegetables and even the good microbiota in your gut can help in the production of Vitamin K. Men require 120 mcg while women require 90 mcg of this vitamin.

7. B Vitamins

Vitamin B-complex consists of 8 vitamins namely: B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B5 (Pantothenic acid), B6 (Pyridoxine), B7 (Biotin), B9 (Folic acid) and B12 (Cobalamin). B vitamins are required for almost all metabolic functions in our body ranging from maintenance of cardiovascular health, neuronal health to RBC functioning and better appetite as well as eye function.

The daily recommended amounts would be as follows:

B Complex VitaminsMen Women
B11.2 mgs1.1 mgs
B21.3 mgs1.1 mgs
B316 mgs14 mgs
B55 mgs5 mgs
B61.3 mgs1.3 mgs
B730 mcgs30 mcgs
B9400 mcgs400 mcgs
B122.4 mcgs2.4 mcgs

Look out for the above amounts in your supplements. Also, it is important to note that if you have whole foods instead of processed foods (example: whole grains, whole pulses), you might not necessarily need B vitamins separately from supplements. (Exception is B12 for vegetarians). Excess consumption of B vitamin supplements can also bring out side-effects like nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and skin issues.

8. Multivitamin Supplements

Multivitamin supplements consist of a combination of more than two to three nutrients. The disadvantage is that you might not get all nutrients even though the dietary supplements have it. There can also be an interaction between nutrients leading to less absorption of the vitamins.

Advantages Of Consuming Dietary Supplements

Now that you know about the commonly used dietary supplements, let us look through the pros of consuming supplements.

  1. Although it is not recommended to consume dietary supplements especially over natural food sources, dietary supplements can be especially beneficial for people who don’t have enough time to focus on their diet or have a busy lifestyle.
  2. Supplements can be used to treat a severe deficiency.
  3. Supplements can also be beneficial in case of chronic illnesses (eg: celiac disease, cancer) or disorders.

Side-Effects Of Using Supplements

Now that you know about supplements and its dosage, it is necessary that you also know the disadvantages of using supplements. 

  1. Some supplements might have misleading information. Hence it is important to read the labels properly, buy from a reputed brand and most important of all, consult a physician before consumption.
  2. Consumption of large dosage of supplements can lead to toxicity and side-effects. Hence it is important to not overdose on supplements although it might sound tempting for someone suffering from a deficiency.
  3. Also, it is important to note that consumption of dietary supplements might enhance/ reduce the efficacy of other medications. For example, Pyridoxine supplementation might inhibit the effects of Phenytoin (Anti-seizure medications) and Levodopa (Used to treat symptoms of Parkinson’s).
  4. Overdose of supplements can also cause gastric issues, liver and kidney damage.

Key Takeaways

  1. Nutrients are better absorbed from food (natural) sources. Try including a varied variety of foods in your diet to avoid deficiency and for optimal health.
  2. Educate yourself as well as consult a doctor before consuming vitamin/mineral supplements as there can be side effects, allergic reactions seen.
  3. Read the nutrition/ingredient label on the back of the products before buying/ consuming them.
  4. If you are ordering products from online sources, check the reviews and ratings before buying them.
  5. Go for vitamin supplements that are less of per cent Daily Value (% DV) value as consuming more of certain vitamins can lead to side effects.
  6. Don’t go for cheap, unknown brands while buying supplements. Always buy from reputed shops and opt for reputed brands only.

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