To supplement or not to supplement...
The many myths about vitamins and minerals and the widespread research into their benefits show just how much value people attach to these essential nutritional nutrients. But to obtain their benefits, you certainly don't need to swallow whole bottles of pills! Too much of a good thing can be bad...
The body cannot synthesize all necessary vitamins and minerals, so it must get them from food. But only small amounts are required and a well-balanced diet will meet the needs of most people. This means eating foods from each of the following food groups each day (as recommended in the Canadian Food Guide) :
|Girls and boys||Females||Males|
|2-3 yrs||4-8 yrs||9-13 yrs||14-18 yrs||19-50 yrs||> 50 yrs||14-18 yrs||19-50 yrs||> 50 yrs|
|Vegetables et fruits||4||5||6||7||7-8||7||8||8-10||7|
|Milk and alternatives||2||2||3-4||3-4||2||3||3-4||2||3|
|Meat and alternatives||1||1||1-2||2||2||2||3||3||3|
People in a hurry often skip meals or eat out a lot; they compensate for their poor diet by reaching for a bottle of multivitamins. And yet, vitamins can only do their job when they are combined with specific nutrients; taken on their own won't cure anything. Furthermore, unless your diet is very inadequate or you suffer from certain specific diseases, you probably don't need to take mineral and vitamin supplements on a regular basis.
Thirteen vitamins are considered to be essential. These are divided into two major groups. The first group includes the vitamins A, D, E, and K and they are stored in the liver and fatty tissues. These fat-soluble vitamins are not easily eliminated from the body and when supplemented excessively can accumulate in the system.
The other group of vitamins includes vitamin C and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid or B5, pyridoxine or B6, biotin, folic acid, and B12). Since these vitamins are water soluble, excess amounts are rapidly eliminated through the kidneys.
The largest-selling vitamins are vitamins A, C, and E because they have the reputation of preventing or healing just about everything. For example, vitamin A is said to cure cancer, improve vision, and rejuvenate the skin. Vitamin E is supposed to prevent heart disease, increase sexual performances, and delay aging. As for vitamin C, some say that it is a cure-all, from cold prevention to healing cancer...
Most supplements contain amounts of vitamins largely in excess of the body's daily needs. Except for vitamin E, so-called "natural" vitamins are no better and are no more easily absorbed than other vitamin supplements or those found in food.
The body contains over 60 different minerals, and of these 22 are considered to be essential and they are all represented in a well-balanced diet.
Supplements of minerals and trace elements are very popular these days, and many see them as a miracle cure for all the health problems related to our modern way of life. Be prudent, however, and do not to take too many mineral supplements; we still don't know what amounts can be harmful to the body.
Who really needs vitamin and mineral supplements?
Unless you have special needs, it is better to take a multivitamin containing a sufficient quantity of several elements than taking a vitamin or a mineral alone in large quantities.
In general, North Americans don't eat enough foods containing zinc, calcium and iron. In particular, women are at risk of calcium and iron deficiency especially pregnant women. They may also require more vitamin D (found in milk), and folic acid. Post-menopausal women also sometimes need to supplement their diet with calcium and vitamin D. Elderly people of both sexes who eat very little are often advised to take multivitamins. They are also sometimes at risk of zinc deficiency. Alcoholics often have a very bad diet and may require B-complex vitamin supplements. And smokers need more vitamin C - but one glass of orange juice per day is usually enough to cover their needs.
Note: Many North Americans eat too much salt. People who have a heart condition or hypertension should consult their pharmacist before taking salt substitutes; these products contain a lot of potassium, which may interact with their medications.
There are many sources of information on good diet habits and the taking of vitamins and mineral supplements. Make sure that the people you consult are trained professionals with a recognized educational background in nutrition. Their advice should always be adapted to your needs and your health status. For more information on vitamins and minerals, consult your pharmacist or dietitian.
Their Roles in the Body
Vitamins are indispensable to life. They play a variety of roles; some bodily functions need a specific vitamin, while others may require several. Vitamins do not give energy, however, and taking more than you need will give you no benefit.
Here are the main functions associated with each major vitamin:
|Folic Acid||Foetus development, protein use, blood formation|
|Beta-carotene||Converted into vitamin A (see vitamin A)|
|Biotin||Helps transform food into energy|
|Vitamin A||Skin, and bone health; essential for eyesight|
|Vitamin B1||Sugar transformation; brain and nerve health|
|Vitamin B2||Essential to growth and for the use of other vitamins|
|Vitamin B3||Helps transform food into energy
Skin, nerves, and digestive tract health
|Vitamin B5||Helps transform food into energy|
|Vitamin B6||Protein transformation; brain function support|
|Vitamin B12||Blood formation; nervous system functions|
|Vitamin C||Gums and teeth health; improves iron absorption|
|Vitamin D||Strong bones and teeth|
|Vitamin E||Red blood cell support; reduce platelet aggregation|
|Vitamin K||Blood coagulation|
This list is not exhaustive but simply shows some of the more important functions carried out by vitamins.
Eating a varied, balanced diet ensures that you have an adequate vitamin and mineral intake.