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Benefits of vitamin supplements

There are many benefits of vitamin supplements, but the science is complicated. Here’s what you need to know.

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December 21, 2021
6 min read

Every year, UK residents spend a whopping £500 million on supplements, with this number projected to continue rising over the years. But are the benefits of vitamin supplements worth it, or are they a waste of money like some people think? When it comes to supplements’ benefits, here’s what you need to know.

Article breakdown

First things first, focus on your diet before you focus on the benefits of vitamin supplements

Supplements are specific extracts or nutritional compounds pulled from food. In contrast, the whole foods that the supplement was made from contain far more than just the one or two individual compounds or nutrients you might find in the pill or tablet.

And therein lies the truth—it’s always better to eat a healthy diet filled with nutritionally dense whole foods, than to eat a poor diet and rely on supplements to make up for it. That doesn’t mean supplements are bad for you, but that they can’t fully make up for all of the complex micronutrients and health benefits of whole foods.

There are three aspects of whole foods that simply can’t be replicated in a supplement:

  • Fibre, which is key for good digestion, a strong metabolism, and a healthy gut

  • Complex micronutrients

  • Protective antioxidants and bioactive compounds, such as phytochemicals that may help reduce the risks of numerous diseases

Additionally, many of these complex micronutrients and chemicals in your food may work together in ways that researchers are still exploring. Because we don’t fully understand how certain nutrients and compounds in your food interact, isolating them into a supplement may mean we’re missing out on their full benefits.

Finally, researchers say that the nutrients in whole foods may be more bioavailable (i.e. easier for your body to break down, absorb, and use) than nutrients in supplements.

Lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes, is a great case study. It’s well established that lycopene improves your heart health and cardiovascular system. Yet clinical evidence shows that eating tomatoes drives more significant health improvements than taking lycopene on its own.

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Multivitamin supplements benefits: is one-a-day all you need?

Multivitamins are the most popular form of vitamin supplement with consumers, but dietitians warn that the research is mixed on the benefits of vitamins in this format. 

In one analysis of 18 different clinical studies, there was no clear link between multivitamin supplementation and the risk of several chronic diseases. However, other research has found that taking a multivitamin may be helpful if you aren’t getting what you need from your diet.

The general consensus amongst dietitians, doctors, and nutritionists is that taking a multivitamin may have limited to no benefits for most people, but it may be helpful if you:

  • Eat a poor diet.

  • Have dietary restrictions that prevent you from eating specific food groups (e.g. you’re a vegan, or you’re gluten-intolerant).

  • Are on medication that affects the absorption of nutrients from your food.

  • Have a disease that affects the absorption of nutrients from your food.

Benefits of vitamins: are there dangerous drawbacks to taking a multivitamin?

More is not always better. Most multivitamins contain at least 100% of your daily needs of every major vitamin and mineral. In some cases, the supplement may contain far more. 

A potential health problem is that you may end up with very high levels of certain vitamins or minerals in your body. This is especially true if you take other supplements or eat foods that are fortified with vitamins and minerals. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, people who take multivitamins often have excessively high levels of vitamin A, zinc, iron, and niacin. Some of these, such as vitamin A, can be toxic at high levels.

5 benefits of vitamin supplements: individual vitamin supplements

Instead of taking a true multivitamin, more and more people are instead targeting a specific health concern by taking individual vitamin supplements, or supplements that have a limited, but more focused, set of specific nutrients.

Your nutritional needs may also change as you get older, or as your lifestyle changes.

For example:

Let’s break down a few benefits of vitamin supplements, grouped by their specific purposes and goals.

1. Reduces anxiety and stress

Many people struggle with their mental health, specifically anxiety, depression, and chronic stress. Five vitamins that may help with anxiety and mental health include:

  • B vitamins

  • Vitamin C

  • Vitamin D

  • Magnesium

  • Omega 3s

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2. Improves cardiovascular health

Heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases are the number-one cause of death around the world. Supplements that may help improve your cardiovascular health include: 

  • Nitrates 

  • Garlic extract 

  • Vitamin K 

  • Berberine 

  • Taurine

3. Increases cognitive function and brain health

Your brain needs a lot of fuel. In fact, it has some of the highest energy requirements amongst all of your body’s organs. Did you know that 60% of the glucose (sugar) your body burns every day goes directly to powering your brain? 

But your brain needs more than just calories and carbohydrates—it needs specific nutrients. So what vitamins and minerals are good for the brain? These are the most important vitamins for brain health:

  • Anthocyanins

  • Omega 3 fats

  • Vitamin D

  • Iron

  • Selenium

  • B-complex vitamins

4. Increases energy levels

Several vitamins play critical roles in your energy metabolism, and a deficiency may leave you feeling sluggish, tired, or fatigued. Energy-boosting supplements may include:

  • Vitamin B12 

  • Iron 

  • Coenzyme Q10

5. Supports healthy ageing

Researchers have found that men and women who eat a healthy diet and get the right nutrients reduce the signs of aeging on a cellular level, and also physically slow some of the symptoms of the ageing process. 

If you want to experience healthier aeging, the best anti-ageing vitamins, minerals, and supplements include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: These healthy fats protect against cognitive decline as we get older (and even reduces the risk of developing dementia).

  • B vitamins: They support bowel function, help our bodies to produce healthy blood cells, and improve eye health.

  • Antioxidants: They help to protect our cells from damage from free radicals, and this damage is associated with increased signs of ageing and a higher risk of disease.

  • Vitamin D: It improves bone strength and reduces the risk of osteoporosis.

  • Vitamin A: It also supports healthy eyes (specifically vision when lights are dim) and prevents cognitive decline.

  • Biotin: It strengthens skin, hair and nails, which often become dry and brittle as we age.

  • Zinc: This mineral supports your immune system.

  • Selenium and iodine: These minerals are key for thyroid function.

  • Chromium: It boosts mood and helps us metabolise fats.

  • Vitamin E: It assists with wound healing.

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