Can you get everything you need simply from the foods you eat, or are our diets so poor that supplements are necessary? The vitamin industry – which is predicted to reach $3.3 billion in the next two years – absolutely wants you to believe you can’t survive without popping their pills.
Personally, I vacillate back and forth between lamenting over the thought of pouring money down the drain and thinking of it as a just-in-case insurance, and the research isn’t very clear on the matter.
Vitamins and minerals give your body more than just energy; they work at the cellular level to keep you healthy, and many vitamins and minerals play key roles in maintaining your health.
Whether or not you use supplements, you should understand the role vitamins and minerals play:
Vitamin A promotes healthy eyes. You can obtain it by eating foods like liver and dark green leafy vegetables. Most people know the main source of Vitamin D is milk, but fish and egg yolks are also great sources. Vitamin E, important for your skin and your lungs, can be found in whole grains. Vitamin K, found in dark green leafy vegetables and broccoli, is critical for blood clotting.
Vitamin B is a group of vitamins designed to provide the body with energy by functioning as a processor that turns food to fuel. There are a variety of forms of Vitamin B required for good health, and deficiencies in any of the B vitamins can be harmful. Whole grains, fish, and dark green leafy vegetables all contain Vitamin B.
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine) transforms carbs into energy
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) aids with fatty acids and generates energy
- Vitamin B3 (niacin or niacinamide) help your body process glucose, alcohol and fat; adequate B3 is required for maintaining good cholesterol health (and niacin can be more effective than many high-cost cholesterol drugs – check with your doctor for more information)
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), in addition to processing fat and glucose, plays a large role in helping your body generate red blood cells. Many small studies point to the benefit of B5 for regulating cholesterol and promoting healing in wounds.
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine, pyridoxal, or pyridoxamine, or pyridoxine hydrochloride) functions in the body as a catalyst for more than 100 enzyme reactions. Vitamin B6 is also critical during pregnancy to aid fetal cognitive development.
- Vitamin B7(biotin) helps the body to metabolize carbs, fats, and proteins as well as process glucose. It also promotes healthy skin, nails, and hair. While it’s often promoted as an ingredient in beauty products, it cannot be absorbed through the skin.
- Vitamin B9 (folic acid) Of all the B vitamins, this is the one I often consider to be the most important. While the vitamin, like all Bs, contributes to converting food to fuel, it plays a critical role in fetal development. Where studies are sketchy on the role of some vitamins, there is no doubt that adequate folic acid in the diet during pregnancy is necessary to prevent birth defects.
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamins or cyanocobalamin) is also important during fetal development, red blood cell health, and food to fuel conversion.
Vitamin C, often considered the anti-cold vitamin, does aid with immunity, but it also plays a major role in metabolic function and skin health, and aids in the healing of wounds. It is also an antioxidant. While the term is bandied about, antioxidants in their most basic roles function as cell scrubbers – cleaning away the toxins that would otherwise contribute to the risk of cancer and disease. Vitamin C can be found in most citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, and cabbage.
Vitamin D (activated by a good dose of sunlight) prevents diseases like Rickets, but also aids in the absorption of calcium. Adequate Vitamin D may play a role in many areas beyond protecting bone health.
Vitamins supplements are not an adequate replacement for good nutrition, exercise, and healthy living. They may, however, provide insurance against those days when you can’t eat as well as you should. Vitamin supplements also make sure that you meet your body’s needs.
Be sure you consult your physician before taking any vitamin or supplement; some can interfere with or interact with prescription medications or existing conditions.