What are vitamins and what is their role?
Vitamins are organic compounds that are essential for normal metabolism in humans. Other than Vitamin D, we do not produce any vitamins within our bodies — we must get them from food.
Vitamins have a proven role in disease prevention and wellness, and certain diseases, like scurvy and rickets, are caused by vitamin deficiencies. Conversely, too much of a good thing can also be harmful. So where’s the balance? How many vitamins and how much of them should we aim for each day?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is the most commonly used guide for quantifying daily vitamin intake and is the best place to start. Eating a diet that includes whole fruits and vegetables, grains, nuts, dairy, and some meats usually assures an adequate intake of vitamins. Vitamin deficiencies can occur in the presence of restrictive diets (e.g. vegan) and in conditions that hinder absorption or metabolism. Women who are pregnant or planning pregnancy and elderly people have unique vitamin needs as well.
Most multivitamin products are manufactured to provide several vitamins in amounts that, if taken as directed, help assure you are getting the daily recommended total without reaching an amount that is “too much.” Medically, it is generally considered safe to take a daily multivitamin, though it is not essential for most healthy adults. Research to-date has shown that taking a multivitamin to supplement dietary intake does not prevent diseases. I strongly recommend you get medical guidance if you are considering uses of vitamins outside the labeled recommendations.
What can vitamin and mineral supplements do for your health?
Supplements, whether they are herbal or natural, have been used for thousands of years to treat a variety of illnesses and symptoms. Everything from acai to saw palmetto, the list of plant-based supplements is quite long. Non-botanical supplements such as fish oil and chondroitin also are widely used.
But supplements are not regulated, and should be used with caution. When using supplements, you might be consuming products that are:
1) Not required to have demonstrated health benefit
2) Not subjected to strict quality controls
3) Not proven to be safe
While there are plants that we know to have health benefits — aspirin for example was first identified from willow bark — others have potentially serious safety concerns when misused or taken in combination with other supplements or medications.
And while there’s a lot we don’t know about many supplements, a lack of detailed biochemical understanding does not necessarily discount thousands of years of practical experience. However, if you accept that a supplement does not have strong proof of health benefit and to assume it is safe in the formulation sold (check that assumption carefully), it is important to understand the ingredients and quantities in supplements cannot always be validated.
Park City Hospital’s LiVe Well Center offers experts in lifestyle medicine that can help you assess your sleep, stress, exercise habits, and nutrition intake. Based upon the results, we can recommend vitamins and supplements that could best help you live the healthiest life possible.