Like many people, I take a multivitamin pill each morning, along with a few other supplements.
But do we really need supplements? Are they doing us good? Could they be doing us harm?
It all depends on what important nutrients might be missing or deficient in our diet, and where supplements can help maintain our health, and perhaps fend off threats like cancer and dementia.
A healthy balanced non-vegan diet should give you all of the vitamins and minerals you need, but few of us achieve this, and as we age, the problem becomes more significant, with reduced capability to absorb certain compounds from the food we eat.
If you’re vegan, as I’m trying to be, there are some potential deficiencies that you must make up from supplements.
If there’s any question at all of a deficiency, then a good multivitamin pill addresses most cases. It will almost certainly include all you might need for vitamins such as C, D, E, B6, B9(folate), and B12. It will cover you also for minerals like phosphorous, magnesium, selenium, and zinc.
There’s sometimes iron present in multivitamins, although older people are seldom deficient, and in fact an excess of iron can be harmful. The UK National Health Service says that older adults need 8.7mg a day, but that “Most people should be able to get all the iron they need by eating a varied and balanced diet. If you take iron supplements, don’t take too much as this could be harmful.”
My own multivitamin contains no iron, but if yours does, then make sure it’s less than 8.7 mg.
The US National Institutes of Health gives detailed advice on multivitamins, including:
• Most individuals can get all of the necessary vitamins and minerals through a healthy eating pattern of nutrient-dense foods.
• Taking an MVM (Multivitamins/multiminerals) increases overall nutrient intake and helps some people get the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals when they can’t or don’t get them from food alone.
• Taking an MVM can also raise the chances of getting too much of some nutrients, like iron, vitamin A, zinc, niacin, and folate/folic acid, especially when a person takes more than a basic, once-daily product that provides one hundred percent of the Daily Value (DV) of nutrients. In particular, older adults should avoid using iron supplements or MVMs containing more than 8 mg/day.
• A 2001 study showed that daily high doses of vitamins C and E, and the minerals zinc and copper can help slow the progression to advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a blinding eye disease.
• MVMs providing nutrients at or up to 100% DV do not typically interact with medications. However, if you take a blood thinner, such as warfarin, talk to your health care provider before taking any MVM or dietary supplement that contains vitamin K.
There’s evidence that Omega 3 has many benefits, including protection for the brain. Those who eat a balanced diet including vegetables, seeds and fish will get all they want from their food. For others, many people get their Omega 3 in fish oil capsules, albeit that (as with eating fish) there’s a small risk of toxins. To avoid that risk, take a daily flaxseed capsule for the short-chain Omega 3 ‘ALA’ (unless you’re already adding flaxseed to your diet) and take a daily Algae Oil capsule for the long-chain Omega 3 compounds (’DHA’ and ‘APA’). If your daily diet contains nuts and seeds, then you’ll be getting another compound called Omega 6, which works well with Omega 3.
Supplements for Vegans
Vegans can meet most of their dietary requirements from a purely veg diet, but there are exceptions.
And for these, it’s essential to take supplements to avoid deficiencies.
These are: Iodine, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, and long-chain Omega 3.
A good multivitamin, along with an algae oil capsule will normally meet these needs.
If you want to know more, the US site Vegan.com has some detailed advice, as does the UK Vegan Society.
And other supplements?
There are a number of other possible supplements, each of which has its adherents, and for each of which there is some (albeit sometimes limited) evidence of maintaining health.
Before you start taking these, it’s a good idea to check with the NHS or NIH websites for general advice on vitamins and minerals, and don’t forget that there are already added vitamins and minerals in some of the foods you eat (like Vitamin A added to margarine).
Typical of these other supplements are the following:
• Coenzyme Q10. An antioxidant, and considered important to slow the aging of your cells.
• Lutein. Some evidence that it’s protective against macular degeneration in your eyes.
• Turmeric. You can take a capsule, but cheaper to put a small pinch of this each day on your breakfast cereal.
• Glucosamine for bone health.
• Saw Palmetto (for men). There is some evidence that this maintains prostate health.
• Hormone Replacement (for women). The combination of estrogen and progesterone is considered by some to be important in anti-aging. This should only be considered in conjunction with advice from your doctor, as there can be negative effects also.
• Resveratrol. This extract from red grapes is an anti-oxidant, and some evidence that it has health benefits. (or just drink red wine or red grape juice?)
• Nicotinamide Riboside. This is said to be anti-aging, by stimulating the creation of a natural compound called NAD, which is generally deficient in older people.
Aside from my breakfast turmeric, I do take some additional supplements myself. My doctor isn’t convinced that they are worthwhile, but says they won’t do me any harm, so I suppose I’ll just keep taking them…!
NHS on vitamins and minerals: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/
US National Institutes of Health: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/vitamins
Vegan.com advice: https://www.vegan.com/vitamins/
UK Vegan Society: https://www.vegansociety.com/resources/nutrition-and-health/nutrients
Link to my post on “Omega 3”
Link to my post on “Vitamin B12”
Link to my post on “Macular Degeneration”
Link to my post on “Turmeric“
Link to my post “NAD“Centrum Silver Adult 220 Count (Pack of 1) Multivitamin / Multimineral Supplement Tablet, Vitamin D3, Age 50+
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