Multivitamins – Do we really need them?

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As a dietitian I am asked constantly what my stance is on taking multivitamins and my reply is pretty much always the same.. unless you know you are deficient in something or are unable to eat a healthy balanced diet (which contains all the vitamins and minerals that your body needs) there is really no point in taking daily multivitamins! Why spend money on something which your body is probably only going to excrete if it is already receiving all those essential vitamins and minerals from your diet? timthumb.php
If however, you have been tested to be deficient in any vitamins and minerals you should speak to your GP or a dietitian about how to rectify your deficiency. Another exemption to the rule is vitamin D which I will explain in more detail in a sec.

To prove my point that your daily dose of vitamins can be obtained through your diet I decided to give you all a quick overview of where you can find most of your major vitamins and minerals from food. I am also going to include what their major functions are and what can happen if you aren’t eating enough of the right foods.

VITAMIN A

Food sources: Liver, fish, eggs, dairy products, yellow/orange/red and dark leafy green vegetables (eg apricots, sweet potato, mangoes, carrots, spinach, watercress)

Why do we need it? Vitamin A is essential to maintaining the integrity of our skin, eyes, and gastrointestinal systems and respiratory tracts.

What happens when we don’t have enough? A deficiency in vitamin A can lead to the development of cataracts and syndrome common amongst the elderly known as Xeropthalmia which results in “dry eyes” and eventually blindness. Being deficient in vitamin A may also cause your skin to lose integrity becoming dry and scaly and you may also become more susceptible to infections.

VITAMIN B12

Food sources: liver, heart, kidney, meat, poultry, fish, milk, cheese, fortified breakfast cereals

Why do we need it? Important for energy production, maintaining a healthy nervous system and in the regeneration of our red blood cells.

What happens when we don’t have enough? Deficiencies can lead to anemia, lethargy and nerve problems. Deficiencies in vitamin B12 are quite common in the elderly due to changes in our diets and also our body’s ability to absorb it from the protein sources in our diets. It is therefore, recommended that anyone over the age of 50 ensures that they include foods in their diets that are fortified with vitB12 such as breakfast cereals or take supplements, as this form of VitB12 is more easily absorbed.

VITAMIN C

Food Sources: Citrus fruits, blackcurrants, strawberries, kiwi fruit, papaya, red chillies, broccoli, watercress, parsley, green leafy vegetables, red and green peppers.

Why do we need it? Vitamin C has many important roles in our bodies and is required for healthy skin, bones, teeth, cartilage and blood vessels. It helps promote healing, aids in the absorption of iron, helps reduce inflammatory responses and is a very powerful antioxidant!

What happens if we don’t get enough? We can’t store large amounts of vitamin C in our bodies, so if we don’t consume enough through our diets we leave ourselves at risk of muscle cramps, bruising, anaemia, infections, slow healing, dry skin and splitting hair.

VITAMIN D

Food Sources: minimal amounts are found in oily fish, milk, butter, fortified margarines, egg yolk and fish oils. NB: Most of the Vitamin D we need is produced in our skin and is converted to an active form by our kidneys upon exposure to sunlight.

Why do we need it? Vitamin D plays a vital role in calcium absorption in our bodies and therefore is essential for healthy bones and teeth and preventing osteoarthritis/osteoporosis.

What happens when we don’t have enough? People of 50 may be at risk of vitamin D deficiency, as your skin does not synthesize vitamin D like it should and your kidneys slowly become less able to covert vitamin D to its active form. Without enough vitamin D we put ourselves at risk of developing weak and brittle bones (osteoporosis) and a higher risk of bone fractures. Vitamin D supps are therefore a necessity for many, especially those who are over 50. If you are over 50 or spend very little time in the sun I would highly recommend having your vitamin D levels tested every now and then by your GP to check for any unwanted deficiencies!

VITAMIN E

Food Sources: Wheat-germ oil, soy-bean oil, sunflower oil, margarine, olives, nuts and seeds, avocado and coconut oil.

Why do we need it? Vitamin E is a natural antioxidant and helps protect cell membranes and therefore maintains skin integrity, aids healing and helps prevent scarring. It also keeps nerves and red blood cells healthy and assists in the prevention of heart disease. This vitamin is also believed to help prevent and/or delay cataract growth.

What happens when we don’t have enough? A deficiency in this vitamin is relatively rare if you include plenty of “good” fats in your diet. Not including enough sources of vitamin E in your diet however, will only make it harder for your body to slow the natural aging process!

VITAMIN K

Food Sources: Green Leafy Vegetables, milk, liver, wheat bran, oats, vegetable oils

Why do we need it? Known as the “natural band-aid” Vitamin K promotes blood clotting.

What happens if we don’t have enough? Though deficiencies are rare in adults, vitamin K deficiencies can cause abnormal blood clotting or haemorrhages.

NB: Vitamin K interacts with and masks the effectiveness of certain blood pressure medications such as Warfarin!

FOLATE

Food Sources: Dried yeast/yeast extract, liver, dark leafy green vegetables, legumes, nuts, oat bran and fortified food products (eg breakfast cereals, bread and juices)

Why do we need it? Folate works with vitamin B12 to protect the nervous system and is also believed to play a role in preventing heart disease, Alzheimers and Parkinson’s disease.

What happens when we don’t have enough? Due to its role in preventing Spina Bifida in new born babies, most breads and cereals in Australia are now fortified with Folate, so deficiencies in adults are not overly common. It is still important to ensure you are eating enough foods rich in Folate as deficiencies in this vitamin can lead to a range of conditions including anemia, depression and nerve functioning problems.

CALCIUM

Food Sources: All dairy products, canned fish (eg sardines and salmon eaten with their bones), some breakfast cereals, sesame seeds, almonds, green leafy vegetables, fortified soy milk and tofu.

Why do we need it? Calcium is one of the most important minerals of all, as it is responsible for maintaining strong healthy bones and teeth and also regulates nerve and muscle function, as well as being required for blood clotting and blood pressure regulation.

What happens when we don’t have enough? Our vitamin D requirements increase with age due to a gradual decrease in absorption. Many elderly people do not reach their minimum calcium requirements, leaving them at risk of osteoporosis, muscle weakness and spasms, high blood pressure, heart palpitations and joint pain.

ZINC

Food Sources: Oysters, crab and shellfish, other seafood, red meat, chicken, kidney, dairy products, eggs, nuts and wheat-germ

Why do we need it? Zinc helps improve our immunity and healing processes and is essential for healthy eyes, skin and nails.

What happens when we don’t have enough? Low zinc intake is associated with impaired immune function, anorexia, loss of sense of taste, delayed wound healing and pressure ulcer development.

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