Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements: Do We Really Need Them?
Vitamins are chemical compounds that are present in foods and have been shown to be essential for life. Many of them can also be produced in the body, but only in limited amounts. Vitamins are necessary in consistent amounts to be effective to perform the basic functions of the body. These include but are not limited to:
- The release of energy stored in food
- The formation and repair of tissues
- Production of urine and sweat
- The secretion of hormones
- Ability to resist disease and infection.
An insufficient intake of vitamins can result in poor general health or, if the deficiency is severe, specific illnesses.
Minerals are chemical elements that are key components to our bodies, including teeth, bones, red blood cells, and soft tissues. They are essential for the normal activity of muscles and the balance of fluid in the circulation and the tissues, and within the cells of the body.
Minerals, unlike many vitamins, cannot be made in the body, and have to be obtained from food. Mineral deficiencies may be more common than vitamin deficiencies partly because intensive farming has resulted in the loss of some minerals from the soil. In addition many people opt for highly processed foods such as white flours, rice and sugar, from which substantial amounts of the minerals that were originally contained in the whole plant have been removed.
A Guide to Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
Vitamin and mineral supplements are prepared in several ways:
- Natural Vitamin Supplements – are derived from food sources and usually contain a natural mix of vitamins and minerals and other derivatives from the original source. Common sources are yeast, liver, corn, soy, rosehips and alfalfa. In general the doses are not very high.
- Synthetic Vitamin Supplements – are made in a laboratory and contain the exact chemical formula of the vitamin. Doses are usually higher than the natural supplements.
- Chelated Minerals – have been specially prepared by the manufactures to facilitate the absorption of mineral in the body.
Vitamins and Minerals Can Be Presented in Various Forms
- Tablets – have a long shelf life. They may cause allergic reactions due to the presence of additives such as fillers and stabilizers.
- Capsules – are used for fat-soluble vitamins and powdered formulations. They are usually made of animal gelatin. When buying oil or oil capsules, it is important to check that the oil has been ‘cold pressed’ during preparation to avoid adverse chemical changes.
- Powdered Preparations – are the most rapidly absorbed formulas, but are often the least palatable. They are usually free of additives.
- Liquids – can contain coloring agents and sweeteners (as can children’s chewable formulations).
Do You Need to Take Them?
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies are common these days due to intensive farming, consumption of processed food and low intake of healthy meals. Taking vitamin supplements may prove beneficial but they should be taken according to the recommended dose as some of these vitamins and minerals may cause toxicity.
If you think you need to take vitamin and mineral supplements:
- Check with your doctor or pharmacist that it is safe to start a supplement if you are already taking other medication, or have any other long-term medical condition
- Do not exceed the manufacturer’s recommended dose without professional advice
- Remember that some minerals and vitamins can be toxic in excess amounts, so if you are taking one as part of more than one supplement you should check with your doctor or pharmacist that your total dose is safe
- Stop taking the supplement if you experience any side effects
- Always seek professional advice for a correct diagnosis about any symptoms you experience