There has been a lot of controversy surrounding dietary supplements such as vitamin pills. Some people believe they are a vital component to a healthy diet, some people believe they are unnecessary. The Medical Station is here to explain to you that there is truth in both sides.
What are Vitamins?
Vitamins are micronutrients (nutrients that you only need in very small amounts) that are naturally present in food. Most vitamins are also now available in isolated forms such as pills in our drug stores and are also known as dietary supplements. There are 13 vitamins that are essential for our bodies to function normally but we need each vitamin in different amounts. When our food is being digested, we absorb most of our vitamins in our small intestine where they can enter the blood stream and be delivered to the parts of our body that need them.
The Key is Bioavailability
One of the main reasons scientists are skeptical about supplemental vitamins is that many of them don’t show to drastically increase the health of the people taking them. This can be accounted for by the bioavailability of the vitamin. Bioavailability refers to the proportion of ingested vitamin that is available for use in the body. Therefore, while you may take a high dose of a Vitamin B12 pill, a lot of the vitamin does not get absorbed because it is broken down by the acid in our stomach before it can reach the small intestine for absorption. Fat Soluble Vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E and K) also can have low bioavailability since they travel to the liver right after absorption and most gets excreted right away. Some dietary supplements can be found in different forms which can increase its bioavailability. For example, some vitamins can be taken sublingually (dissolved under the tongue) and this will allow for more absorption as the vitamins will get absorbed into the small blood vessels under your tongue.
Many of Us Don’t Need Them
The production of Dietary Supplements is a multi-billion-dollar industry and the reality is that many people that take vitamins don’t need them. 40% of adults take a daily multi-vitamin pill, however a majority of these people obtain an adequate amount of vitamins through their diet. In fact, studies have shown that increasing your vitamin intake above what is recommended has no added benefits for your health. Therefore, unless you aren’t meeting your vitamin requirements, taking a multivitamin every day can be a waste of money. However, there are many cases when taking vitamins can be really beneficial. The major examples of this include people who are deficient in a vitamin which can cause deficiency diseases as well as pregnant women who need excess vitamins to support their pregnancy
How to Know if you Should Take Vitamins
The best way to know if you should be taking a vitamin is to consult your doctor. They will likely run a blood test to see if you are low or deficient in any vitamin and will then suggest a dose and type of vitamin they believe will rectify the deficiency. While everyone can feel free to inquire about this, there are certain people should definitely consider getting regular testing to ensure they do not become deficient in any vitamins. These people include:
- Pregnant women or women hoping to become pregnant
- Elderly people
- People with restrictive diets (lots of allergies, vegetarians, vegans)
- People who have undergone bariatric surgery or other surgeries of the digestive tract
- People with inflammatory diseases of the digestive tract (e.g. Crohn’s Disease)
- People who live in cold climates (like Canada) or are not outside often
If your blood test shows that you are deficient in a vitamin, it is likely in your best interest to begin taking a dietary supplement. You should also consider looking up foods that contain this vitamin and making a conscious effort to include them in your diet.
While many people do not need to take vitamins, there is definitely a role for them in maintaining health of certain people. Call us at 416-633-2345 to book an appointment with one of our Doctors if you would like to learn if you need to take a supplemental vitamin. You can also book an appointment with one of our Registered Dietitians to learn more about the role of vitamins and why they are so important.
This article was written by Hailey Adler, one of our Summer Administrative Interns. Hailey received a BSc. from the University of Guelph and is attending Queen’s University for a Masters of Anatomical Sciences. She is passionate about all things medical related as well as nutrition and cancer research.