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Multivitamin capsules poured out of a bottle
By: Victoria Iyeduala (Freelance Health and Wellness Writer)
Dietary supplements can't replace a healthy diet. They can only support your diet.
"Off the top of my head as a medical doctor, I know you don't need to take a multivitamin daily. What you need is to eat good food daily, especially fruits and vegetables," says Dr Gbemisola Daramola, Principal Medical Officer, University Health Service, The University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria.
So, unless your doctor or dietitian finds it necessary, you should focus more on eating a healthy, balanced diet every day rather than depending on supplements.
Dietary supplements can't replace a healthy diet. They can only support your diet.
This article explains;
Whether taken on one's initiative or recommended by a doctor or dietitian, the primary purpose of taking a daily multivitamin is to optimise your diet or support your diet by increasing your supply of micronutrients. This helps to prevent deficiencies and also treat deficiencies.
Apart from folic acid supplements, which have been proven to help prevent neural birth defects in babies when taken before and during pregnancy, no other supplement has been proven to have a different function other than helping to increase your body's supply of the particular nutrient.
Also, there's no conclusive evidence proving that taking multivitamins every day can prevent chronic diseases such as cancer and heart diseases.
Since dietary supplements are non-prescription substances, you could be tempted to take them whenever you feel you need them.
Although they are considered safe for consumption without direction from a medical professional, it's better to play safe and go on a daily dosage only when necessary.
Some situations where your doctor or dietitian can put you on a daily multivitamin, vitamin or mineral supplement are considered below:
Click on image to enlarge.
"When a person shows signs of a particular nutrient deficiency, he/she may need a daily intake of the vitamin for some time, for example, Vitamin C for scurvy," says Dr Daramola.
When you notice signs of vitamin or mineral deficiency, such as brittle hair and nails, shortness of breath, numbness and tingling in hands and feet, muscle and joint aches, bleeding gums, slow wound healing, dry eyes and blurry vision, you should consult your doctor or dietitian to ensure it's a deficiency.
You may have to take a blood test, after which your doctor or dietitian may recommend you take a daily dose of the micronutrients you're deficient in until you recover.
"In pregnancy, some vitamins like folic acid and iron are usually prescribed particularly to prevent anaemia," says Dr Daramola.
In addition to preventing anaemia, folic acid, the supplemental form of folate (vitamin B9), also helps avoid congenital brain and spine disorders (neural birth defects). This is why pregnant women and women of reproductive age, especially those planning to get pregnant soon, need more folic acid.
If you're pregnant, your doctor may recommend a daily intake of prenatal vitamins, depending on your nutritional needs.
Generally, pregnant women have an increased need for nutrients since they need them not just for themselves but to also support the proper growth and development of the unborn child. Hence, they have a higher risk of nutrient deficiency.
Vitamin and mineral supplements recommended during pregnancy include:
These can all be in a prenatal multivitamin. Your doctor may also prescribe a higher dose of folic acid if necessary.
According to Dr Daramola, your medications can affect how your body absorbs and uses vitamins and minerals.
She explains, "Medications can reduce nutrient absorption. However, this depends on the duration of use. A short-term medication like a laxative to aid bowel movement capable of reducing the absorption of nutrients and vitamins is usually taken just for a few days, not long enough to cause its side effects. Anticonvulsants reduce folate absorption and sometimes have to be taken for years in patients with a seizure disorder. Such persons may require a daily dose of folate."
You may also be on drugs (e.g. some diuretics) that cause loss of useful nutrients.
So, if your medications are causing nutrient malabsorption or wastage, your doctor may put you on a daily intake of the necessary supplements.
Dr Daramola says, "Some health conditions may impair the absorption and usage of some nutrients. Thus a daily intake of such nutrients may be required."
For example, coeliac disease, an autoimmune disease, causes damage to the small intestine, preventing it from properly absorbing essential nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D and iron.
Alcohol use disorder or alcoholism can also affect the absorption of nutrients.
Nutrient malabsorption can also be caused by surgeries such as gastric bypass surgery.
To avoid malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency, people with these kinds of health conditions may have to take the necessary daily vitamin and mineral supplements.
A restricted diet may limit your body's supply of the necessary micronutrients. If you have diet restrictions because of your beliefs, allergies, health condition, or you're a picky eater, you should see a doctor to ensure you're getting enough nutrients.
For example, vegans and vegetarians who don't get enough vitamin B12 from fortified foods take a daily vitamin B12 supplement to fill this gap in their diet.
So, if you have diet restrictions and can't make up for this with fortified foods, your doctor or dietitian may put you on a daily supplement.
Multivitamin, vitamin and mineral supplements are safe when used according to the instructions on the label or a prescription from a doctor or dietitian.
However, you may experience side effects such as constipation, diarrhoea and stomach upset from a daily multivitamin intake. Using them for a long time can cause tooth staining.
Some people may also have allergic reactions to multivitamins or individual vitamin and mineral supplements.
According to the NHS, symptoms of an allergic reaction can include:
Increased urination, stomach bleeding, uneven heart rate, confusion and muscle weakness or limp feeling can result from an overdose of multivitamins or individual vitamin and mineral supplements.
Complications from overdose can also cause severe organ problems.
"Most people want to take a multivitamin every day to protect their health. Most studies find no benefit from multivitamins in protecting the brain or heart and neither do they reduce the risk of cancer, heart diseases or dementia”, Dr Daramola says.
She advises that everyone should endeavour to eat healthy rather than take daily multivitamins or dietary supplements.
A varied, balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals can give you enough of the needed micronutrients.
However, you shouldn't hesitate to see your doctor or dietitian if you experience any signs of nutrient deficiency to get proper diagnosis, treatment and nutrition advice.
1. Office of Dietary Supplements - Multivitamin/mineral Supplements. (2022, October 11). Multivitamin/Mineral Supplements - Consumer. Retrieved May 19, 2023.
2. Vitamins and Minerals in Pregnancy | Ready Steady Baby! NHSinform. Retrieved May 19, 2023.
3. Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements in Pregnancy. (n.d.). nhs.uk. Retrieved May 19, 2023.
4. Should I Take a Daily Multivitamin? (2012, September 18). The Nutrition Source. Retrieved May 19, 2023.
5. Is There Really Any Benefit to Multivitamins? (2021, November 1). Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved May 19, 2023.
6. Allergies. nhs.uk. Retrieved May 19, 2023.
Published: May 26, 2023
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