Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients required in the body to maintain and promote optimal health. Vitamins and minerals play many roles in the body like boosting the immune system; supporting normal growth and development, and helping cells and organs function properly.
There are 13 vitamins your body needs: A, C, D, E, K and eight B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and folate). Each vitamin has a specific job. If you have low levels of certain vitamins, you may develop a deficiency disease. For example, if you don't get enough vitamin D, you could develop rickets. Some vitamins may help prevent medical problems. For example Vitamin A helps prevents night blindness.
Eating a balanced variety of foods is the best way to get all the vitamins and minerals you need each day, as well as the right balance of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and calories.
Do you need vitamin or mineral supplements?
Some individuals will require a vitamin and mineral supplement if they are not able to get all the nutrition they need from the food they eat. You may require a supplement if you fall into any of the following categories:
1. Over 50. As we age we tend to eat less than we did when we were younger. Less food means fewer calories and fewer vitamins and minerals. As we age our bodies aren’t able to absorb, convert or utilize vitamins and minerals as well as we did when we were young. The vitamins of particular concern in the aging population include Vitamin D, Calcium, Vitamin B12, Folate, Vitamin E and C, Vitamin B6 and zinc. More specifically,
- Vitamin D and calcium are important for bone strength and to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures in older adults.
- Health Canada recommends all adults over 50 take a vitamin D supplement of 400 IU per day.
- Osteoporosis Canada recommends daily supplements of 800 to 2,000 IU for adults over 50
- The Canadian Cancer Society recommends Canadians take in 1,000 IU of vitamin D every day. Those over 50 should take a Vitamin D supplement of 600 IU (15 mcg) and over 70 years old should take a Vitamin D supplement of 800 IU (20mcg) per day.
2. Smokers and Drinkers. If you smoke or drink too much alcohol and are not eating a variety of foods from all food groups in sufficient amounts you may need to take a multivitamin and mineral supplement.
3. Vegetarians. A vegetarian diet can be complete and meet all your nutritional needs but one should try to add foods fortified with Vitamin B12 or take a vitamin B12 supplement. If you are Vegan (you don’t eat any animal products) you may not be getting enough iron, calcium, vitamin D and zinc.
4. People with a low intake of milk and other dairy products. People who drink less then 2 cups (500ml) of milk or calcium fortified beverage every day should be having a Vitamin D supplement. Those who drink little milk or calcium fortified beverages and very little milk alternatives such as yogurt or cheese may need a Calcium and Vitamin D supplement
5. Not so healthy. Poor health can lead to increased use of prescription medications. People on medication should be aware that certain medications can interfere with the absorption and utilization of vitamins and minerals and as a result, a supplement may be required.
Use with caution
As we get older, there is potential for vitamin and mineral supplements to be toxic to our bodies in amounts that may be safe for others. Vitamin and mineral interaction with medications can have negative effects and make us feel ill. Our physiology changes and this could lead to an accumulation of certain nutrients to toxic levels. For example in the elderly vitamin A can build up in the blood because the body cannot remove it from the blood to be stored elsewhere as efficiently as it did when the body was young. Vitamin A left in the blood stream can become converted to toxic compounds which can lead to problems such as demineralization or weakening of the bones. Other examples to watch for include iron and zinc.
It is important that older adults consult with their doctor, pharmacist or dietitian before starting before beginning any vitamin or mineral supplement to ensure the supplements is appropriate and safe.