September 1, 2017

Vitamins & Supplements – Should You Be Taking Them?

Eat Healthy

You may have noticed vitamins and supplements at your local store promising you beautiful hair, younger-looking skin and stronger nails. But can you trust these claims?

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

According to medical experts, it is unlikely a vitamin or mineral can deliver on health claims like the ones above.

Dietary supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) like prescription medications are, and some manufacturers may imply that their products have greater powers than the scientific evidence shows.

So how do you get healthier skin, hair and nails?

“The truth is, you generally do not need vitamin and mineral supplements if you are eating a varied diet,” says Dr. David Della Lana, a family medicine physician at Kauai Urgent Care Clinic. “The best way to get all your essential nutrients is by eating a diet containing a variety of healthy foods, not a pill.”

Multivitamins have long been considered a secret weapon in aiding health and preventing chronic disease, but that may not be the case. Researchers for the National Institutes of Health found few studies to make general recommendations neither for nor against multivitamins to prevent chronic disease.

You can take vitamins and supplements, but their primary function is to fill in small nutrient gaps. They are meant to add to or “supplement” your diet, not take the place of nutrients and vitamins found in real food.

Certain people who may benefit from vitamins and supplements more than others include the following:

  • Women who may become pregnant should get 400 micrograms a day of folic acid from fortified foods or supplements, in addition to eating foods that naturally contain folate.

  • Women who are pregnant should take a prenatal vitamin that includes iron.

  • Adults age 50 or older should eat foods fortified with vitamin B-12, or take a multivitamin that contains B-12 or a separate B-12 supplement.

  • Adults age 65 and older who do not live in assisted living or nursing homes should take calcium and vitamin D daily to prevent osteoporosis

If you decide to take a vitamin or mineral supplement, here are some tips:

  • Check the label. Read labels carefully. Product labels can tell you what the active ingredients are, which nutrients are included, the serving size and the amount of nutrients in each serving.

  • Avoid megadoses. Choose a multivitamin or mineral supplement that provides about 100 percent of the daily value (DV) of all the vitamins and minerals, rather than one that has 500 percent of the DV for one vitamin and only 20 percent of the DV for another.

  • Check expiration dates. Dietary supplements can lose potency over time, especially in hot and humid climates like Hawaii. If a supplement doesn't have an expiration date, don't buy it. If your supplements have expired, discard them.

  • Watch what you eat. Vitamins and minerals are being added to a growing number of foods, including breakfast cereals and beverages. If you're also taking supplements, you may be getting more than you realize of certain nutrients. Taking more than you need is expensive and can raise your risk of side effects. For instance, too much iron can cause nausea and vomiting, and may damage the liver and other organs. 

The FDA keeps a list of dietary supplements that are under regulatory review or that have been reported to cause adverse effects.

If you're taking a supplement, it's a good idea to check the FDA website periodically for updates.