If you Google the word vitamins, you will get over 40 million hits of information – everything from vendors selling a variety of vitamin supplements to opinion articles about the value of vitamins to conclusions about vitamins from scientific studies. To make sense of the importance of vitamins, it might be useful to “go back to the basics”.
Your body uses vitamins for a variety of biological processes, including growth, digestion, and nerve function. There are 13 vitamins your body needs: Vitamin A, Vitamin B (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, and folate), Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, and Vitamin K.
Each vitamin has a specific job. For example, Vitamin C is important for your skin, bones, and connective tissue. It promotes healing and helps the body absorb iron. If you don’t get enough of this vitamin, you could become anaemic.
Most people can usually get all the vitamins they need by eating the types and amounts of food recommended by the “Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide”. According to a 2012 Health Canada report, this also includes Canadian children. But, certain people are more likely to require a supplement.
These include people who eat a calorie-restricted diet, women who are or might pregnant or are breastfeeding, people who are sick, recovering from surgery, or experiencing a chronic health problem, . breast-fed infants or people older than 50 who need more Vitamin D, and people who can’t or won’t eat a variety of foods such as those with allergies or are on a vegetarian or vegan diet.
When it comes to purchasing vitamin supplements, “be savvy”.
1. Almost all multivitamins are synthetic (man-made) and are as good as those claimed to be from “natural” sources. If a natural supplement has a Natural Product Number (NPN) or a Homeopathic Medicine Number (DIN-HM), it meets Health Canada’s standards for safety, quality, and health claims.
2. Many supplements are marketed for men or women or certain age groups. A standard multivitamin is usually all that a healthy adult needs.
3. Today’s dietary supplements may include not only vitamins and minerals but also less familiar substances such as herbals, botanicals, amino acids and enzymes. Check with your health care provider before combining or substituting them with other foods or medicines.
4. Think twice before chasing the latest headline. Sound health advice is generally based on research over time, not a single study highlighted by the media.
5. Be wary of results claiming a “quick fix” that depart from scientific research and established dietary guidelines.
6. More is not always better when it comes to vitamins. Food, combined with a supplement that exceeds the “Recommended Dietary Allowance” could cause a health problem. In another instance, excessive amounts of vitamins C and B are not used by the body and eliminated in the urine – literally flushing your money down the drain.
As is the case with all dietary supplements, the decision to use supplemental vitamins should be made with discretion. The best resource to assist you with your decision-making are health practitioners and dietitians – both available by appointment at the Agassiz Community Health Centre.
(Submitted by Agassiz Community Health)