When to Take Vitamin Supplements


Are vitamin supplements effective?

The answer is yes — especially for older folks — but it’s best to check with your doctor or dietitian first about the need for a supplement, and your trusted pharmacist about the supplement’s brand, before starting any vitamin regime. Also ask them what a particular supplement will do and not do, then carefully follow instructions.

Needless to say, all of your daily vitamins should be consumed through whole foods, but for some people this may be difficult. If you are not sure what and how much vitamin-rich foods you should have, ask your doctor or dietitian for dietary recommendations that pertain specifically to you and your condition. Keep your list handy so you don’t forget. And always remember, supplements are not intended to be a whole-food substitute.

Whole foods contain the nutrients your body needs to function properly. But you need to know the combination and proportions of these foods in order to get the proper result.  Certain whole foods will also provide essential fibers to prevent constipation and help ward off diseases, including diabetes and heart problems. Healthy foods contain natural chemicals and antioxidants to protect you from cancer, keep blood pressure in check, prevent heart disease, slow oxidation and protect cell tissue.

Try to eat a wide variety of healthy foods including fresh fruits, nuts, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, low-fat dairy products, lean meats and fish. These foods typically contain all the vitamins and minerals you need. However, the Mayo Clinic, notes there are certain situations that may require individuals to take fortified supplements in addition to a balance diet:

  • Adults 50 and older should consume B-12 supplements or foods fortified with this vitamin.
  • Adults 65 and older who are not receiving daily nursing care should take 800 international units of vitamin D daily to reduce the risk of falls.
  • Pregnant women should consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily from supplements or fortified foods in addition to eating whole foods that naturally contain foliates. They should also take a prenatal vitamin that includes iron. But it’s best to carefully follow your doctor’s orders.

The Mayor Clinic also recommends taking approved supplements if you:

  • Consume less than 1,600 calories daily.
  • Are vegan or vegetarian and eat a limited variety of healthy foods.
  • Don’t consume at least two servings of fish a week.  Otherwise, you may need a fish-oil supplement as recommended by your doctor, dietitian or pharmacist.
  • Are a woman who experiences heavy bleeding during menstrual cycles.
  • Have a medical condition that affects how your body absorbs nutrients.
  • Have any medical procedure in which your doctor recommends supplements.

Lisa Burbage

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