When you reach for that multivitamin or other dietary supplement in the morning, you're probably not wondering whether they're really benefiting you. More than a half of Americans take one or more dietary supplements daily, but many of them may not need them in the first place.
Fact is, a healthy, balanced diet can provide all the daily nutrients you need for a healthy body and mind. But the decision to take supplements may depend on other factors, including your age, health conditions, and more.
Why Take Supplements?
Supplements can make up for what's lacking in your diet, and can decrease your risk of a vitamin deficiency. Many water-soluble vitamins are excreted by your body if you take more than you need, but others — including niacin and vitamins A, B-6, C and D can cause toxic symptoms in large amounts. These symptoms are usually mild — such as a headache or upset stomach — but they can severe and lead to kidney stones, heart issues, and even confusion.
Also, people taking certain medications need to limit or avoid certain vitamins because of potentially dangerous interactions. For example, anyone taking blood thinners shouldn't take vitamin E and K supplements.
Who Should Take Supplements?
People who eat less than 1,200 calories a day, strict vegetarians, and people with health-related issues that decrease the amounts of vitamins and minerals absorbed from food may need supplements. Pregnant women benefit from a prenatal vitamin because they have higher vitamin needs, while folic acid reduces the risk of birth defects.
Here's a general supplement guideline for adults and seniors:
Adults (ages 19 to 50)
We've already mentioned the importance of women taking folic acid during the childbearing years; their iron needs also go up during pregnancy. Also, calcium absorption starts to decrease — for both men and women — during adulthood. If you don't consume the recommended 24 ounces of low-fat or fat-free milk per day - you should take calcium or vitamin D supplements (unless you get the recommended calcium from other foods).
Women need less iron after menopause but require more calcium. In addition, the body absorbs less calcium as it did earlier in life. It's also harder for the body to absorb naturally-occurring vitamin B12 after 50, but it can easily absorb synthetic B12.
Research does suggest that fish oil, for men and women, can promote heart health - and there's plenty of research to back it. Moreover, people who get insufficient exposure to sunlight can benefit from extra vitamin D.
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