In India Around 37% of the population buys vitamin and mineral supplements, spending 60 billion Rupees each year. However, there’s still plenty of disagreement among experts on whether spending all this money on micronutrient supplements is really worthwhile or not.
One thing’s for course, taking vitamin or mineral supplements is not and should never be thought of as a substitute for healthy eating. If you have got a poor diet, to start with, you can get all the vitamins and minerals you want but this will not make up for poor eating habits or improve your health by any stretch of the imagination. However, if you do have a generally healthy diet, then taking a daily multivitamin, multi-mineral supplement targeted for your age and gender, can help you cover your daily requirements for all these very precious molecules.
We all agree that meeting your requirements with food is always the best strategy, but let’s face it, meeting your daily requirements for all of the vitamins and all of the minerals with diet alone, and doing so on routine, is extremely challenging, to say the least. And if you think for the extraordinary advantages that come from fully covering your needs for all of these very precious nutrients, then getting a little extra help doesn’t hurt.
When something may be beneficial and it certainly doesn't hurt, I say we should go for it, and that’s why I do take my daily multivitamin and multimineral supplement. As long as it’s crystal clear that taking a supplement does not exonerate us from trying to get as much of the vitamins and minerals we need from natural food sources. Some people are concerned that if they take a supplement, they are already covering most of their daily requirements for these molecules, and thus anything they get from food is in excess and may be detrimental. This is absolutely not true. Taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement will never result in problems of toxicity because it provides amounts of micronutrients that are around the RDA. Remember that the RDA represents the minimum amount you should get every day to make sure you don’t incur in deficiencies, but you can safely exceed that amount several folds without any risk for toxicity.
For example, say you take a multivitamin that already covers 100% of your vitamin E Recommended Dietary Allowances and then you snack on sunflower seeds which also cover your daily vitamin E requirement, so you have eaten 200% of the RDA for vitamin E, you have nothing to worry about and you can only be happy. Unfortunately, what most frequently happens to people who don’t take a supplement, and they don’t snack on sunflower seeds either, is that they almost never meet their Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for vitamin E. And for most of the micronutrients, it is much better to go above, rather than fall short of the Recommended Dietary Allowances. There are of course some exceptions, for example, the mineral iron, but these are already taken into account in the formulation of the supplements you don’t have to worry about it. Of course, the multivitamin and mineral supplement is not to be confused with individual supplements providing mega doses of just one nutrient.
These should only be taken under the supervision of a dietician or a physician, especially those with a high risk of toxicity, such as vitamin A and most of the minerals. One segment of the population that we believe would greatly benefit from taking daily multivitamin and mineral supplements is older adults. As we get older, our diet tends to become poorer for a various variety of reasons, our appetite decreases, we may have trouble chewing or swallowing, we may be less motivated to cook especially if we live alone, our income may be lower than it used to be, and of top of all that, absorption of many vitamins and minerals decreases, we secrete less intrinsic factor for vitamin B12, our synthesis of vitamin D in the skin also decreases, in short, we get less of these nutrients from food, and that we really want more. Marginal deficiencies of vitamins and minerals are extremely common in older adults, and they result in many of the little symptoms have described, often mistaken for inevitable ailments of aging, when in fact, taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement would be enough to make them go away.
We personally prefer supplements to fortified food, because once you take supplements you know what you are taking when you take it and how much of each and every nutrient is in it, so it’s easier to keep track of what you are getting. Fortified food is trickier because you may be getting something without even realizing it, as you wouldn’t expect to find that specific nutrient in that specific food. Even if you are a careful label reader, it’s much more difficult to estimate the amounts you are getting because you normally outweigh your breakfast cereals or your orange juice to understand what proportion of the added nutrients you are getting. Besides, added nutrients easily add up if you combine multiple fortified foods in your diet. In short, if you want some extra calcium I'd rather have you get the amount you want from a tablet, instead of a little bit from fortified OJ, a little bit from fortified cereals, and a little bit from who knows where so that who knows how what proportion you are getting and if you are not getting enough or if you are getting an excessively too much. Remember that adding vitamin D to your orange juice or vitamin B12 to your breakfast cereals is no longer natural than adding them to a pill. It just makes it harder to keep track of them. To take one daily multivitamin and mineral supplement targeted for your age group and gender, plus half a gram of vitamin C to be increased to 1 gram during the winter season, plus 50 micrograms of vitamin D during the winter months or all the year-round if you don't get at least 15 minutes of daily sunlight exposure. Women of childbearing age and during pregnancy should also take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. On top of all that, we advise you to make regular use of the natural supplements of group B vitamins such as brewer’s yeast, wheat german soy lecithin, as well as sunflower seeds for vitamin E. I also recommend eating calf liver every once in a while to get plenty of vitamins A, B12, and many other B vitamins, as well as iron, copper, and many other minerals.