The supplement industry is a multi billion dollar industry in the US alone, touting various health benefits including improving your skin, weight loss, improving memory and energy levels. The problem with these claims is that the supplement industry does not have to prove their supplements are effective before they go out on the market, so you may be wasting your money on empty claims. Research has shown there are no clear benefits for overall lifespan, heart health or cancer prevention with taking supplements. In general our food supply has been fortified and enriched with a variety of vitamins and minerals and a majority of the US population are getting what they need by eating real food. Eating a well rounded diet is a much more affordable way to get the vitamins and minerals you need. However, supplementation does still have a place for specific populations.
If you are deficient in Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and therefore cannot be found in most fortified or enriched foods other than milk. The main way to get your vitamin D is by spending time in the sun, in which case your skin will make it for you! However a majority of us do not get enough time in the sun - especially without sunscreen - to get the recommended amounts of vitamin D. There are also multiple medical conditions and medications that can cause a vitamin D deficiency. Your primary care physician should check your vitamin D levels occasionally via standard blood tests. If you are deficient a vitamin D, a supplement may be the answer. Adequate levels of vitamin D in the blood are associated with lower risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease and various autoimmune diseases. If you are deficient, the recommendations for supplementation vary from 660 IU/day to 5,000 IU/day of Vitamin D3 as recommended by your doctor.
If you don’t eat seafood
Omega 3s are beneficial in preventing heart disease.The American Heart Association recommends eating 2 or more servings every week of fatty fish, which is one of the best sources of Omega 3s. If you don’t eat any seafood or other sources of Omega 3s (such as flaxseed and canola oils) you may want to consider a supplement from 0.5 to 1.8 grams per day of EPA+DHA, especially if you or your family have a history of heart disease.
People who are avoiding whole food groups
Have a gluten intolerance? Following a vegan diet? Avoiding dairy? You might be missing some key nutrients and supplementation may be beneficial. People following a gluten free diet may find it difficult to consume enough B vitamins, iron and folate. If this is you, taking a basic multivitamin should do the trick. People following a dairy free or vegan diets may not be getting enough calcium, though there are plenty of non-dairy options that are high in calcium (fortified soy or almond drinks, tofu and broccoli to name a few). Lastly people following a vegan diet may be lacking in vitamin B-12, zinc and iron. B 12 is the only of these vitamins that can’t be found naturally in plant-based foods. Fortified breakfast cereals are the only good source of B-12 for vegans, so supplements are beneficial for this population.
Food is always our best source for nutrients, especially since buying a million different supplements can be cost-prohibitive. However, for some people, taking a few necessary vitamins and minerals can be very beneficial.