There is a huge range of vitamin and mineral supplements now available. These may take the form of individual vitamins or mixtures of several vitamins, with or without minerals added, designed for specific age groups or for different purposes. For example, they may have different amounts of certain vitamins if they are designed for menopausal women, or for the elderly, or for children.
The orthodox nutritionist’s viewpoint is that it is better to obtain the necessary vitamins and minerals by eating a variety of foods as part as a balanced diet. The discovery of substances in foods that are not strictly nutrients supports this view, as these would not previously have been included in nutrient supplements. Now, of course, supplements are being produced with bioflavonoids or polyphenols added – but the same issue arises: are there other substances in food that are biologically active that we still do not know about, which may have benefits alone or by acting synergistically with other food components to maintain health?
The requirements for vitamins (and minerals) are the subject of much deliberation by expert committees, and guidelines are given for the amounts needed in the diet to maintain health. However, there are those who consider that this is not sufficient, and that busy, stressful lives require the consumption of supplements in order to achieve “optimum” nutrition. There is also the idea that “processed foods” are lower in nutrients tan fresh foods. While there are arguments for and against each of these viewpoints, what may be true is that people are not always able, for one reason or another, to eat an ideal “balanced” diet. In this case the consumption of a multivitamin (with or without mineral supplements) may act as an “Insurance policy” to ensure adequate micronutrient intake. If you feel the need for a supplement the best type to choose is one that provides about 100% of the recommended dietary amount (recommended daily allowances in the USA) of the known vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. By doing this you can be reasonably sure that you will not be overdosing on any of those that are potentially harmful in large amounts.
Groups for whom specific vitamin supplements may be necessary are:
• Breast-fed infants – Vitamins A and D
• Children 1-5 years – Vitamins A and D
• Women, pre-pregnancy – Folic acid
• Pregnant women – Folic acid, Vitamin D
• Older people (over 65) – Vitamin B12
• Smokers – Vitamin C
• Those not exposed to the sun – Vitamin D
• People at risk of osteoporosis – Vitamin D
• People on restricted diets – Multivitamins
There are also some vitamins for which a special case can be made for supplementation in specific situations.