More than half of all Americans take one or more dietary supplements daily or on occasion. Supplements are available without a prescription and usually come in pill, powder or liquid form. Common supplements include vitamins, minerals and herbal products, also known as botanicals. People take these supplements to make sure they get enough essential nutrients and to maintain or improve their health. But not everyone needs to take supplements.
«It’s possible to get all of the nutrients you need by eating
a variety of healthy foods, so you don’t have to take one.
But supplements can be useful for filling in gaps in your diet.»
Poor Digestion. Even when food intake is adequate, inefficient digestion can limit your body’s uptake of vitamins. Some common causes of inefficient digestion are not chewing well enough and eating too fast. Both of these result in larger than normal food particle size, too large to allow complete action of digestive enzymes. Many people with dentures are unable to chew as efficiently as those with a full set of original teeth.
Hot coffee, tea, and spices. Habitual drinking of liquids that are too hot and consuming an excess of irritants such as coffee, tea, pickles and spices can cause inflammation of the digestive linings, resulting in a drop in secretion of digestive fluids and poorer extraction of vitamins and minerals from food.
Alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can damage the liver and pancreas, which are vital to digestion and metabolism. It can also damage the lining of the intestinal tract and adversely affect the absorption of nutrients, leading to sub-clinical malnutrition. Regular use of alcohol increases the body’s need for B-group vitamins, particularly thiamine, niacin, pyridoxine, folic acid, vitamins B12, A and C as well as the minerals zinc, magnesium and calcium. Alcohol affects availability, absorption and metabolism of nutrients.
Smoking. Smoking is also an irritant to the digestive tract and increases the metabolic requirements of Vitamin C, all else being equal, by at least30 mg per cigarette over and above the requirements of a nonsmoker.
Laxatives. Overuse of laxatives can result in poor absorption of vitamins and minerals from food, by hastening the intestinal transit time. Paraffin and other mineral oils increase losses of fat-soluble vitamins A, E and K. Other laxatives used to excessively can cause large losses of minerals such as potassium, sodium and magnesium.
Fad diets. Discarding whole groups of foods can cause a serious lack in vitamin intake. Popular low-fat diets, if taken to an extreme, can be deficient in vitamins A, D and E. Vegetarian diets, which exclude meat and other animal sources, must be very skillfully planned to avoid Vitamin B12 deficiency, which may lead to anemia.
Overcooking. Lengthy cooking or reheating meat and vegetables oxidizes and destroys heat-susceptible vitamins such as the B-group, C and E. Boiling vegetables removes water-soluble vitamins, such as B-group, C and many minerals. Light steaming is preferable.
Antibiotics. Some antibiotics, although valuable in fighting infection, also fight off friendly bacteria in the gut, which normally allows B-group vitamins to be absorbed through the intestinal walls. Such deficiencies can result in a variety of nervous conditions, and therefore it may be advisable to supplement with B-group vitamins when on a lengthy course of antibiotics.
Food allergies. The omission of whole food groups from the diet, as in the case of individuals allergic to gluten or lactose, can mean the loss of significant dietary sources of nutrients such as thiamine, riboflavin or calcium.
Accidents and illness.Burns lead to a loss of protein and essential trace nutrients. Surgery increases the need for zinc, Vitamin E and other nutrients involved in the cellular repair mechanism. The repair of broken bones will be retarded by an inadequate supply of calcium and Vitamin C and conversely enhanced by a full dietary supply. The challenge of infection places high demand on the nutritional resources of zinc, magnesium and vitamins B5, and B6.
Stress. Chemical, physical and emotional stress can increase the body’s requirements for vitamins B2, B5, B6 and C. Air pollution increases the requirements for Vitamin E.
P.M.S. Research has demonstrated that up to 60% of women suffering from symptoms of premenstrual tension, such as headaches, irritability, bloating breast tenderness, lethargy and depression can benefit from supplementation with Vitamin B6.
Pregnancy. Pregnancy creates higher than average demands for nutrients to ensure healthy growth of the baby and comfortable confinement for the mother. The nutrients that should be increased during pregnancy are the B-group, especially B1, B2, B3, B6, folic acid and B12, A, D, E, and the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and phosphorous. Professional assessment of nutrient requirements during pregnancy is recommended.
Oral contraceptives. Oral contraceptives can decrease absorption of folic acid and increase the need for Vitamin B6 and possibly Vitamin C, zinc and riboflavin.
Light eating. Some people eat very sparingly, even without weight reduction goals. U.S. Dietary surveys have shown that an average woman maintains her weight on 800 calories per day, at which level her diet is likely to be low in thiamine, calcium and iron.
Lack of sunlight. People with minimal exposure to sunlight can suffer from insufficient amounts of Vitamin D, which is required for calcium metabolism and without which rickets and osteoporosis have been observed.
Low body reserves. Although the body is able to store reserves of certain vitamins such as A and E, Canadian autopsy data has shown that up to 30% of the population has reserves of Vitamin A so low as to be judged «at risk.» Vitamin A is important to healthy skin and mucous membranes and eyesight.
Athletics. Athletes consume much food and experience considerable stress. These factors affect their needs for B-group vitamins, Vitamin C, and iron in particular. Australian Olympic athletes and A grade football players, for example, have shown wide ranging vitamin deficiencies.