Americans love vitamins. More than half of us take some form of a one-a-day supplement or daily vitamin, which, according to research, equates to about $81 million in annual sales!
“There’s a lot of controversy around vitamin consumption, and as health care providers, we tend to maintain a view that the best way to get all the vitamins you need to stay healthy is through a balanced diet and lifestyle,” suggests Regina Chinsio-Kwong, DO, a Mission Heritage Medical Group physician at the Wellness Corners. But for some of us, a lifetime of unhealthy eating habits may require a bit of extra help.
In these instances, vitamin supplements can play a vital role in helping us find balance again. For example, Vitamin B-12 can help with stress management and energy, folate (folic acid) helps ensure healthy prenatal development and Vitamin D can be taken to manage depression. But with an encyclopedia of vitamin options available, and hundreds of brands to choose from, how do we know which ones are good and which ones to avoid?
“Before you start taking vitamins or supplements, you should always check with your doctor first,” Dr. Chinsio-Kwong says. “Your health care provider will be able to identify which supplements your body is actually lacking, versus those it is not.”
Here’s what to look for when considering a purchase:
Look for NSF or USP certification symbols.
The Food and Drug Administration regulates vitamins, but the agency doesn’t actually test them. It’s the manufacturer’s responsibility to make sure vitamins are safe for consumption; this means that not all vitamins live up to their labels.
“A good habit to get into when choosing a vitamin or supplement is to look for the USP or NSF certification symbol,” says Dr. Chinsio-Kwong. The United States Pharmacopeia Convention (www.usp.org) and NSF International (www.nsf.org) work with vitamin factories on a voluntary basis to test and certify their products, helping purchasers identify which items are faithful to their labels.
It’s also important to look out for warning labels, especially when pregnant or nursing.
Finding a good vitamin brand has nothing to do with cost.
Some cheaper products will use synthetic binding agents in their vitamins that are hard to digest. But more expensive products are no different. The best way to find a good vitamin is to do your research. Food-Based vitamins are best. The Office of Dietary Supplements offers free fact sheets that can help you determine which brands uses certain ingredients, and therefore which vitamins might be best suited for your particular needs.
Know the percentage or dosage of the key ingredient that you need.
Typically, manufacturers of supplements will have to meet certain requirements, including the quantity of any specific herbal extract in a supplement. Check the label for the recommended daily value percentage or DV. In some cases, it may exceed the recommended daily dose.
Vitamin overdosing is a real thing.
Yes, that is right. Even too much of a good thing can be bad for you. For example, too much Vitamin C or zinc can cause diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Too much selenium can cause hair loss, mild nerve damage and gastrointestinal issues. Check the labels and ensure you are not taking more than the recommended amount.
“If you have any symptoms or adverse effects after taking vitamins or supplements, you should talk to your doctor right away,” says Dr. Chinsio-Kwong. “Calcium, folic acid and Vitamin D when taken in excess are known to cause problems. Excessive Vitamin D consumption has been linked to heart problems, and consuming excessive amounts of folic acid, found in grain rich foods such as bread, pasta, rice and cereals can sometimes hide an underlying B12 deficiency. An untreated B12 deficiency can cause nerve damage,” she says.
Your body needs vitamins and minerals to give you energy and help you feel good. Unfortunately, the modern day American diet is high in fat, sugar, and complex carbohydrates and does not adequately supply all the nutrients our bodies need to stay healthy. As a result, supplements are sometimes necessary, but a simple change of diet, when combined with regular exercise, can also work wonders to ensure that your body gets all the nutrients it needs.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.