Benefits of vitamin supplements
There are many benefits of vitamin supplements, but the science is complicated. Here’s what you need to know.
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.
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
Protective antioxidants and bioactive compounds, such as phytochemicals that may help reduce the risks of numerous illnesses.
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.
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.
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 severe illnesses. 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 an illness 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.
Vegans need to take a vitamin B12 supplement because their diet tends to have little to no vitamin B12.
Women who might have taken iron supplements all their lives may stop taking iron after menopause.
Someone who was recently exposed to a sick person may opt to take immunity-specific vitamins, such as vitamin C.
Let’s break down a few benefits of vitamin supplements, grouped by their specific purposes and goals.
1. Improves mental health
2. Improves cardiovascular health
3. Supports cognition 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:
Omega 3 fats
4. Increases energy levels
Several vitamins play critical roles in your energy metabolism, and a lack of vitamins may leave you feeling sluggish, tired, or fatigued. Energy-boosting supplements may include:
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 ageing on a cellular level, and also physically slow some of the symptoms of the ageing process.
If you want to experience healthier ageing, 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 illness.
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.
Chromium: It boosts mood and helps us metabolise fats.
Vitamin E: It assists with wound healing.