Your Health

Vitamin and Mineral Supplements

What are vitamins?

Vitamins are natural compounds that our bodies need to maintain normal health and development. Vitamins help the body’s cells function optimally. If you don’t get enough of any one vitamin, over time you may not feel your best or may even become ill. We need 13 basic vitamins that are found in foods: A, C, D, E, K, and 8 other vitamins referred to as the vitamin B complex. The B complex includes thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), biotin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine (B6), folic acid, and cyanocobalamin (B12).

What are minerals?

Minerals are elements that are essential for good nutrition. Each mineral plays an important role in keeping the body’s cells in a natural state of balance. Minerals occur naturally, passing into foods grown in soil and into meat sources when animals eat plants. We need 15 minerals to maintain good health: calcium, chloride, chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium, and zinc.

How can I get vitamins and minerals?

The best source for vitamins and minerals is a balanced diet of whole foods (foods that have not been unnecessarily processed or refined). Whole foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, contain hundreds of other healthy, natural substances that you won’t find in vitamin and mineral supplements. However, supplements can help ensure that you are getting enough essential vitamins and minerals.

Caution: Because some vitamins and minerals, particularly iron, can be harmful to children if taken in excessive quantities, store vitamin or mineral supplements where your kids cannot reach them and make sure the bottles have childproof caps.

Who needs vitamin and mineral supplements?

You are probably getting enough vitamins and minerals if you are in good health and eat the recommended daily servings from each food group. (For recommended daily servings, see Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating.) Unfortunately, many people do not have a diet that provides enough micronutrients. (Micronutrients are nutrients found in foods in very small amounts.)

People with unhealthy diets

You may need supplements if you:

  • miss meals
  • diet to lose weight
  • do not eat enough foods from the four basic groups (grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy, and meat and alternatives)
  • regularly eat foods high in sugar and processed or refined foods (for example, fast foods)

People with healthy diets

Even if you eat a healthy, balanced diet, you may benefit from supplements.

If you are… Supplements may help you because…
over the age of 65 Your appetite may diminish with age and if you do not eat enough food you may develop micronutrient deficiencies.
a woman of child-bearing age You may not be getting enough iron, calcium, magnesium, or folic acid. If you are not eating enough fruits, vegetables, beans, or dairy products, consider taking a multivitamin supplement
a smoker Smoking reduces vitamin C and some vitamin B levels.
living with a digestive disease You may not be properly absorbing vitamins and minerals.
a heavy drinker Alcohol depletes vitamins stored in the body. If you have more than three drinks a day, consider taking a multivitamin.
a strict vegetarian You may not be getting all the micronutrients you need from
vegetables alone.
unable to consume dairy
You may not be getting enough calcium and vitamin D.
on a weight-loss diet You may not be getting all the micronutrients you need if you are getting less than 1200 calories a day.

Note: Supplements are not a substitute for a healthy diet.

What does recent research say?

The following table summarizes some of the recent findings on vitamins and minerals.

Vitamin or mineral Recent research says…
vitamin C If you have a cold, daily doses of 500 mg may reduce the duration of your symptoms. As soon as you notice symptoms, start taking vitamin C.
vitamin E It may reduce the risk of prostate cancer in male smokers, according to one study. The research showed a 40% decrease in deaths related to prostate cancer for male smokers ages 50–69 who took 75 IU doses of vitamin E daily for 5–8 years.
vitamin B complex Certain B complex vitamins - folic acid, B6, and B12 - may help reduce plasma homocysteine, an amino acid found in the blood. Plasma homocysteine is now recognized as an indicator of increased risk for stroke or heart attack in some people.
calcium Not getting enough may increase your risk of osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and bowel cancer. Studies indicate that many women and some men do not get enough calcium. Consider taking a supplement if you are not getting the
recommended daily amount.

What if I am (or may become) pregnant?

If you are pregnant, it is important to eat well because you need more vitamins and minerals, particularly iron, calcium, folic acid and vitamin D. You can help ensure that you are getting enough vitamins and minerals by taking a pre-natal supplement.

If you are planning a pregnancy, you can help prevent brain and spine birth defects of the baby by getting at least 400 mcg of folic acid a day for at least one month before getting pregnant. Before taking folic acid supplements, talk to your Peoples pharmacist or doctor.

If you are pregnant or could become pregnant, do not get more than 5000 IU of vitamin A daily. Large vitamin A doses may cause birth defects.

What about megadoses?

Large doses of vitamins may cause health problems. Before taking megadoses of vitamins or minerals, talk to your Peoples pharmacist or doctor.

Where can I find out more about vitamin and mineral supplements?

For more information about vitamins and mineral supplements or other health issues:

  • talk to your Peoples pharmacist
  • read People First, a health magazine of practical information available free from your local Peoples Drug Mart or Peoples Pharmacy

Provides up-to-date information on vitamin and mineral research and products.

Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating
Specifies recommended daily servings from each of the four basic food groups.

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