If you pay much attention to medical news, or to general wellness/nutrition/exercise news, you’ve likely heard, at one point or another, that vitamin supplements aren’t necessary when you’re eating a balanced diet. There is some truth to that. Whole, natural, organic foods can pack in loads of health-optimizing vitamins and nutrients to keep you feeling, looking, and performing at peak conditions.
The problems with the message “vitamin supplements are not necessary if you eat right”
- That little sneaky word “if.”
Consider these numbers from a May 2016 poll that NPR conducted with Truven Health Analytics, which surveyed a nationally representative sample of 3,000 U.S. adults.
- More than 80 percent of Americans fail to eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. At the same time, many Americans overeat refined grains and sugar.
- The most recent estimate is that 36 percent of adults in the U.S. are obese.
- "We eat two more large snacks a day [compared to] 25 years ago," according to a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina.
- A poll by The New York Times found, 71 percent of the public thinks granola bars are healthy, while only 28 percent of the hundreds of nutritionists surveyed agreed with that assessment.
- A 2017 CDC report said that roughly 90 percent of Americans do NOT intake enough fruits and vegetables.
All this, and yet when asked, “How healthy would you consider your eating habits to be?,” about 75 percent of respondents ranked their diets as good, very good or excellent. There is clearly a disparity between the number of people who could benefit from taking vitamin supplements and the number of people who realize they could benefit from taking vitamin supplements--and from changing their eating habits.
2. Vitamin deficiencies are real.
Although minor deficiencies in vitamins and minerals are relatively common and can sometimes be addressed by even minor changes in dietary intake, there are a number of people with chronic health conditions that warrant vitamin supplementation.
A 2017 gastroenterology study showed that people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease experience nutritional and metabolic losses that at times can only be compensated for by supplementing with vitamins.
Taking into consideration vitamin B12 (which is critical to making DNA and red blood cells, among other processes) alone, there are a variety of circumstances that can result in deficiency. A few of them are more likely to result in the need for vitamin supplementation are
- Pernicious anemia, which makes it hard for your body to absorb vitamin B12
- Crohn's disease, celiac disease, bacterial growth, or a parasite
- Taking certain medications that interfere with the absorption of B12. This includes some heartburn medicines including proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or H2 Blockers.
Since vitamin B12 is water soluble, your body frequently gets rid of it, too, so it’s necessary to intake B12 on a regular basis to restore your supply. This is even more significant for people who have a tough time absorbing vitamins.
3. Not everyone processes vitamins with the same efficiency.
For folks with conditions like MTHFR variants, where the body is much less efficient at converting the vitamins in our foods into usable, absorbable forms, getting what you need solely from food is a challenge. Should you eat healthy and pack as many nutrients into your diet as possible? Absolutely. But is there a chance that you STILL won’t get enough of what your body needs? Yes.
Spinach is a food rich in folate. Eat it. It’s called a superfood for a reason. But know that if you have MTHFR, your body may only convert about 20% of the folate in that spinach into a tool that it can actually use. In order to compensate for that, you can and likely should take a methylated folate supplement that has already gone through the conversion process gives your body the fuel it needs.
The same can be said for a host of other vitamins: can’t absorb enough B12? Take a supplement. And if your body has trouble converting nutrients, you can do something to make it easier and maintain your health.
Even as makers of vitamin supplements, though, we agree that it IS possible to oversupplement. Work with a medical professional to figure out what you truly need to take, and follow dosing guidelines to ensure that you treat your body well and feel your best.