We Ask the Experts *Everything* You Need To Know About Vitamins and Supplements
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Ahh the age-old question – are multivitamins and other supplements *really* the key to feeling and looking better? And are these nutrient-packed pills and potions the secret to bridging the gap between health and nutrition, particularly for those of us who struggle with getting our daily doses of fruit and veggies?
From pregnancy supplements to support for hair and skin, menopause tablets to multivitamin gummies, there are tons of products out there in the realm of targeted supplements that claim to aid a myriad of health and wellness problems.
We spoke with an expert at Vitabiotics, the UK’s number 1 vitamin company backed by Dragons Den’s Tej Lelvani, TV’s Tess Daly, and Frankie Bridge, about the world of vitamins to decipher how, when and whether we should all be taking supplements.
Thanks for speaking with us! Firstly, should we all really be taking a multivitamin, or is diet alone enough to provide all vitamin and mineral needs?
A healthy and balanced diet, incorporating a diverse selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, wholegrain foods, and healthy sources of protein, ensures a good balance of essential nutrients.
However, there may be occasions when achieving this ideal diet becomes challenging for some of us. A good, well-formulated multivitamin can be taken on a daily basis to help safeguard the diet and plug any nutritional gaps of key vitamins and minerals, to support our health
Sounds great! And what are the vitamins we should all really be getting more of?
Vitamin requirements will vary depending on the individual, including their age, diet and lifestyle.
Vitamin D is particularly important, as it helps to support normal immune function, calcium absorption and the maintenance of normal bones and teeth. The UK Department of Health recommends that everyone (over the age of 4 years) should consider taking a supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D.
However, for some adults and children over 4 years, it is recommended they take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout the year if they are not often outdoors to get the natural benefits of sunlight – for example, if they’re frail or housebound, or usually wear clothes that cover up most of their skin when outdoors.
Also if you have dark skin – for example, you have an African, African-Caribbean or South Asian background – you may also not make enough vitamin D from sunlight. So it is recommended you also consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout the year.
Vitamin C is another important nutrient that plays many beneficial roles, including the normal function of the immune system, the normal formation of collagen for skin function and the reduction of tiredness and fatigue. Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that cannot be stored or made in the body, so a regular intake is required. A supplement can help safeguard your diet, if it is not rich in vitamin C.
The B vitamins, which are actually a group of eight different vitamins, provide a number of benefits to our health. Vitamin B3 (niacin) contributes to normal energy metabolism, vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) contributes to normal mental performance, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) contributes to the regulation of hormonal activity and vitamin B7 (biotin) contributes to the maintenance of normal hair.
Duly noted! What happens to your body when you start taking multivitamins?
Vitamins are absorbed into your system within a couple of hours but the time it takes to feel the benefits of these can vary depending on several factors, including your current nutritional status and the nutrient you are taking.
Vitamins B and C are water-soluble, and are not stored in the body – we excrete these when we urinate. These vitamins are generally absorbed more quickly.
Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, meaning they require fat for absorption and can be stored in the body’s fat tissues. It may take longer to feel the effects of fat-soluble vitamins because they need time to accumulate in the body. We recommend taking your supplement daily, for at least 6 weeks, to notice any changes.
When might we most need additional support from vitamins?
Pregnancy places high nutritional demands on the body, so it’s essential to ensure that your body has the nutrients it needs. When you are trying for a baby, the UK Department of Health recommends taking a supplement containing 400 micrograms of folic acid every day – from before you’re pregnant until the 12th week of pregnancy (the end of the first trimester).
Low maternal folate status is a risk factor in the development of neural tube defects in the developing foetus but taking a supplemental folic acid supplement increases maternal folate status. Folic acid is also beneficial after the 12th week of pregnancy as it contributes to maternal tissue growth during pregnancy.
If you are trying to conceive, then the mineral zinc is an important nutrient to consider for both him and her, as it is scientifically proven to contribute to normal fertility and reproduction.
Other important nutrients to consider include calcium which helps maintain normal bones and teeth, omega-3 DHA which contributes to normal brain and eye development of the foetus, iron which supports normal oxygen transport in the body and iodine which supports normal cognitive function.
You should avoid taking a supplement that includes vitamin A during pregnancy as this can harm the developing baby.
For someone concerned about their vision, such as contact lens wearers or those working long hours at a computer screen, vitamins A and riboflavin, zinc, plus omega-3 DHA, all contribute to the maintenance of normal vision.
Adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D is important for all ages, but as we get older, our bone density can decrease – calcium, magnesium and vitamin D all help to support the maintenance of normal bones.
It can be difficult to obtain all of the nutrients our bodies need if you are following a solely plant-based diet. Important nutrients to consider supplementing here would include iron and vitamin B12 to help support normal red blood cell formation.
Should we be changing the vitamins we take throughout the year?
Again, this is very dependent on individual needs.
There are some vitamins that are harder to obtain through food, such as vitamin D. If you are looking to support your immune system, then vitamin C, iron and zinc all help to support normal immune function.
Winters can be harsh on our skin, so if you are concerned about supporting skin health, then biotin would be something to consider, as it contributes to healthy skin and hair.
Is there a recommended way to take vitamins?
We recommend that you take your vitamins with your main meal. This can help with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin D, and helps to reduce any potential digestive discomfort.
Always ensure that tablets or capsules are taken with plenty of cold liquid, ideally water, to help with swallowing and to wash it down.
It is not recommended to take tablets or capsules with hot drinks, as not only could you burn your mouth if you take too large a sip, but this may also cause the tablet or capsule to disintegrate too early.
It’s best to avoid taking certain nutrients, such as iron, alongside tea or coffee. The tannins these drinks contain may inhibit the absorption of minerals, such as iron.
So, we think it’s become pretty clear that vitamin and mineral intake is all dependent on the individual, their lifestyle, and diet.
The expert at Vitabiotics tells us that, “Adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D is important for all ages, but as we get older, our bone density can decrease – calcium, magnesium and vitamin D all help to support the maintenance of normal bones.”
So calcium, magnesium and vitamin D are some of the main supplements that we should be taking – at all ages – to aid and support normal bones.
The time of year can have a huge impact on our health and wellbeing, with many of us needing a little bit of help throughout the dark, winter months. Incorporating a vitamin D supplement in the autumn and winter can help us to prepare for those shorter days with less sunlight.
For general, normal immune system function, the gold standard is iron, vitamin C, and zinc, while those trying to conceive should also incorporate a folic acid supplement.
Whatever you feel you are lacking – if anything – there is a supplement that can help you to feel better, look better, AND function better.
Meet the experts
Vitabiotics is a British company that specialises in vitamin and mineral-based food supplements for every stage of life.
Many products contain vitamins based on national guidelines for infants, children and during pregnancy to support their contribution to health.