Is it really necessary to supplement with a multivitamin? Or is your diet enough?
The reality is that times have changed, and so has our food. Fruits and vegetables tested over the past few decades have shown that their nutrient status has changed quite significantly due to soil depletion, pollution, pesticide use, and transportation (1)(2).
Soil quality has decreased over time from a number of factors including increased human development, deforestation, and environmental pollutants.
What’s more many of us are chronically stressed and not eating the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables to begin with.
According to the CDC, in the US only 1 in 10 adults meet the recommended daily recommendations for fruits and vegetables (3). Unhealthy dietary behaviors have also been observed in Canada as fruit and vegetable consumption has been on the decline (4). The typical Western diet is characterized by processed and packaged foods that are stripped of nutrition and associated with rising chronic disease rates (5).
These types of dietary choices can compromise our own nutritional status and increase the need for supplemental nutrition from outside sources.
Multivitamins are never intended to replace what you receive from your diet, but instead can help to bridge the gap between what you are consuming and what you should ideally be receiving in your bloodstream for optimal daily health.
Signs you may benefit from a multivitamin:
1. You are vegan or vegetarian
Following a plant based diet can provide many benefits however nutrient deficiencies are likely to occur unless supplementation is implemented. There are certain nutrients in particular that are lacking in plant foods and mainly found in animal products. These include vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine and omega 3 fatty acids.
The only reliable way to receive enough vitamin B12 on a vegan diet is from the consumption of fortified foods or from supplementation. What's more, vitamin B12 absorption decreases with age which makes it more important among the older population.
Vitamin D is commonly deficient among omnivores and vegans alike, due to lack of sunlight exposure and limited amounts found in foods. Vitamin D3 is the most effective form to raise serum vitamin D levels.
Iodine is an essential nutrient for proper thyroid function, and vegans are considered at risk of iodine deficiency. You can obtain iodine from seaweed or iodized salt or by taking a supplement.
Though omega 3 fats are found in plant based foods such as walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flaxseeds, they are poorly converted into the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are found mainly from fish sources and are key for reducing inflammation, supporting cognitive health, and regulating immune function.
The good news is vegans don't have to take fish oil to boost their omega 3 intake as vegan friendly algae oil is now available as an effective plant based supplement to raise EPA and DHA levels.
2. You’re a little sluggish
There are many reasons as to why you may feel low energy but when this becomes a common occurrence this could be an indicator of low nutrient status. Fatigue can be a sign of nutrient deficiencies such as iron, magnesium, vitamin C, zinc, vitamin D and the B vitamins (6).
Nutrient status also affects the thyroid gland which is largely responsible for controlling metabolic function. Fatigue is a common indicator of low thyroid function and compromised thyroid hormone production. The thyroid is particularly reliant on selenium, iron, vitamin D, iodine, and zinc.
3. You get sick often
Do you find yourself catching just about every cold and falling sick every single year atleast once? You may be low in nutrients!
The immune system is highly reliant on zinc, selenium, iron, copper, and the vitamins A, C, E, B-6 and folic acid to be able to maintain proper function (7).
Not meeting nutritional demands can result in the inhibition of immune cells and antibodies resulting in altered immune responses and an impaired ability to fight off pathogens.
A study found that older adults who supplemented with a daily multivitamin during a 12 week period improved the status of certain vitamins and minerals in their blood as well as their overall health status (8).
A multivitamin can provide a variety of important nutrients that fill in the gap and improve blood levels to ensure the immune system receives the support it needs.
4. You have brittle hair or nails
If you notice your hair is dry, thinning or breaking easily or you have weak or brittle nails, this may be a sign of nutrient deficiencies.
The state of your hair, skin, and nails can be a good indicator of your internal nutritional status.
Our hair and nails rely on vitamins and minerals in order to grow and stay strong. Key vitamins and minerals for nail and hair health include vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, selenium, iron, and the B vitamins (9).
These nutrients can help to provide hair follicles with the necessary building blocks for healthy hair growth and quality.
6. You've been under a lot of stress
Stress can take a real toll on the body and even affect the absorption and storage of nutrients. When your body is under significant or long term stress it can burn through nutrients more quickly and thus its demand for vitamins and minerals increases. This can affect micronutrient concentrations and result in micronutrient depletions (10).
The adrenal glands in particular use up significant amounts of vitamins in order to keep up and produce stress hormones in response to the increased demand.
Ideally we want to diminish our stress load and not be living in a high stress state every single day. Unfortunately nowadays this is the reality for many people who are constantly in a state of chronic stress. This can take a toll on the body and as a result our health can suffer in various ways such as weakened immunity, fatigue, weight gain, poor focus, irritability, and premature aging.
A multivitamin can support the body with additional nutrients while you address the underlying stress so it can be more resilient when facing stressors and bounce back to a more healthy and balanced state.
Keep in mind depending on your situation you might require additional supplementation to address more severe deficiencies that multivitamins won't likely able to correct.
There are many signs and symptoms that can indicate that you aren't getting enough vitamins and minerals. The best thing you can do is to adopt a well balanced nutritious diet that is whole foods based to make sure you are covering the foundations. However, if you still feel less than optimal or are not eating enough of a varied diet then it might be worthwhile to check with your practitioner or nutritionist to discuss additional supplementation to boost your overall nutritional status.
Remember, multivitamins are not suitable for everyone as it's important to not exceed the daily suitable intake of vitamins and minerals to avoid possible toxicity effects. Though multivitamins can benefit many people if you are unsure if they are right for you or not, consult your health care provider.
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