Vitamin Supplements: The Basics

Vitamins and minerals, also called micronutrients (since humans only require them in small amounts), are obtained mainly from the food we eat. Everything that occurs in the body requires these nutrients to function properly. While eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and lean protein will provide these nutrients in appropriate amounts; most people do not meet these dietary guidelines. A recent study published in the Journal of American Medical Association found a modest reduction in cancer rates in men that took multivitamin supplements daily.  However, before running out to a local vitamin shop to make sure you have nutrients A – Z covered, consider the following:  (It is very important to consult your health care providers and a Registered Dietitian to ensure that supplementation is safe for you given your medication and health history).

Photo by Flckr user  Healing And Eating

Photo by Flckr user Healing And Eating

•    Supplements carry risks. Just as medications have side effects and interactions with food or other drugs, supplements carry the same concern. Too much of certain nutrients like B6 or fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) can lead to sometimes serious side effects. Some nutrients should not be supplemented in people with certain diseases or on other medications.

•    Supplements are not regulated. The FDA has classified supplements as foods, not medications, which mean they are not held to the same strict testing for safety and efficacy as pharmaceuticals. Since there is not the same level of regulation as in the pharmaceutical world you will need to do your proper research and proceed with caution.

•    How do you know you are getting a quality supplement? If after discussing supplementation with your health care provider you decide that supplementing certain nutrients would benefit your health the next step would be finding the best supplement for you.  Some companies opt into inspection of their labs by United States Pharmocopeia (USP) to ensure a set of quality standards are met. If so, the brand is able to display a symbol USP verified so consumers can be more assured of the product.

•    Timing is important. Nutrient absorption is impacted by foods and other nutrients that are consumed at the same time. Fiber binds to some nutrients, particularly minerals, and prevents the body from absorbing them.  Some nutrients benefit from the addition of additional nutrients to help it absorb. For example iron requires vitamin C for absorption; taking an iron supplement by itself is not beneficial. These are only a few examples, but a Registered Dietitian can detail these interactions based on your specific diet and medication profile.

It can be difficult to determine on your own if supplements would be beneficial. A Registered Dietitian can analyze your current diet to see what, if any, nutrients are deficient. After a thorough nutrition assessment is completed, a Registered Dietitian will factor in all of the above considerations and based on your specific health conditions and concerns, advise supplements that will fit your individualized needs.  


Blog Contributor

Blog Contributor

Christi Wheeler, MS, RD was diagnosed with migraines at 17 and sought treatment from a neurologist who used dietary intervention as primary treatment. Within days, Christi was migraine-free and instantly intrigued with how diet can manage different diseases. She subsequently pursued B.S. and M.S. degrees in Nutrition from Arizona State University. Christi's goal is to reach as many people as possible to give the same hope and healing she has experienced using Superior Sustenance.  Visit her website at

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