In a world where marketing clearly matters – how else can you explain designer denim and outrageously priced handbags – I can't help but wonder if vitamins and supplements are a true necessity or just another marketing strategy aimed at today's shortcut-loving, health-conscious consumer. Taking it a step further, if there is value in these pills, how is a person to know which ones and how much to take?
Faced with bottles touting the health benefits of everything from vitamins A, B and C, to Omega-3s, fish oil and zinc, my lack of medical training quickly caught up with me. For help, I turned to Robert Winter, DO, a primary care physician with HonorHealth Medical Group West Bell Road, to figure out if I should invest in vitamins and, if so, which ones.
The good news, according to Dr. Winter, is that for many of us, vitamins and supplements may not be necessary. Eating a healthy diet that aligns with guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should suffice, giving us the vitamins and trace minerals our bodies need. Remember that colorful food pyramid you learned about in school that outlined how much grain, fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, and more to eat each day? Well, it's still relevant, though it's updated about every five years.
For those whose diets leave much to be desired, especially those not eating the suggested 5 to 7 helpings of vegetables a day, Dr. Winter suggests making adjustments. If you're still unsure if you're getting enough nutrients from food alone, he suggests a once daily multivitamin.
Of course, healthcare isn't one-size-fits-all.
There are certain conditions that prevent the body from absorbing nutrients. Gastric bypass surgery hinders such absorption, making vitamins a necessity. Many medications impair our ability to absorb vitamins. Pregnancy is another condition where vitamins are considered a medical must. Prenatal vitamins provide an array of nutrients, including folic acid, fish oil and DHA, all of which support fetal brain and nervous system development.
Another factor to consider when assessing the need for vitamins is age. Vitamin D has proven particularly beneficial among adults 65 and up in preventing falls and related fractures. Vitamin D aids in calcium absorption and helps maintain bone health, which is critical since osteoporosis is a big concern among the geriatric population. While food options such as salmon, canned tuna and anything labeled as being “fortified” pack an extra Vitamin D punch, supplements may be warranted.
Too much of a good thing, however, isn't always good. Dr. Winter warns that certain vitamins, like Vitamin A for instance, can be toxic when taken in large doses.
Summarizing a quote he heard during medical school, Dr. Winter offers this warning about vitamins and supplements: All medicine is either a poison or a remedy. It's the dosage that makes the difference.
At the end of the day, he says a healthy diet is key to meeting your body's nutritional needs. If you're worried about your diet, notice a change in digestion or wonder if you have a medical condition that may require taking vitamins, simply ask your doctor.