Do you take a vitamin or mineral supplement? Are you getting enough nutrients and should you worry about certain deficiencies? Or are you taking too many vitamins? Deciding whether to take a supplement and which one to take is tough because there are so many different types dietary supplements out there that it can be difficult to distinguish between misinformation and scientific advice.
If you’re concerned about getting too much or too little of a specific nutrient, you should first find out if you really need to be taking a supplement. The simplest way to learn more about your unique body chemistry is to test your blood. InsideTracker is an inexpensive and reliable way to do this. Not only will InsideTracker help you optimize your blood levels on a number of key biomarkers, it might also save you a whole lot of money on multivitamins and supplements as well.
Do we need to be taking supplements?
New data found from a Segterra pilot study revealed that many healthy Americans might actually be consuming too much of certain nutrients. The Segterra study analyzed blood samples from 50 healthy adult Americans, both male and female, ranging from 18 – 79 years old. Researchers found that many of the participants had high levels of certain nutrients in their blood, including iron and vitamin B12. When questioned about their diet, they revealed that they were consuming nutritional supplements in an effort to optimize their fitness and health goals.
In addition to extra supplements and multivitamins, much of the food that we buy is already fortified with the essential vitamins and minerals that we need to stay healthy. For example, some orange juice has added calcium and certain breakfast cereals pack 100% of the recommended daily allowance for several nutrients into one serving. Essentially, if you eat a balanced diet, you can get all of the vitamins and minerals that you need to stay healthy just from food.
However, if your food consumption patterns are not ideal, if your bloodwork shows that you are missing some key nutrients, or if you have eliminated specific foods/nutrients from your diet, a supplement might be a good idea. But more is not better. It is important to take only the supplements you need instead of grabbing a multivitamin.
What do the abbreviations on the bottle mean?
To help people better understand the nutrient content of their supplements, the Institute of Medicine has established some guidelines. The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) and the AI (Adequate Intake) are the amounts of the vitamin or mineral that you need to avoid nutrient deficiencies and stay healthy. The RDA and AI are tailored to fit women, men, and specific age groups. In contrast, the UL (Upper Limit) is the maximum amount of a vitamin or mineral that you should be taking to avoid toxicity or unpleasant side effects. In most cases, the UL is the limit for all the sources of the nutrient, which includes both food and supplements. So, if you’re trying to figure out whether you’re reaching the maximum limit on a certain nutrient, you also have to take into account the food that you eat. The UL isn’t listed on most supplement bottles, so check the USDA dietary guidelines here to determine the UL for your particular nutrient.
The FDA uses the DV (Daily Value) to measure nutritional intake. Unlike the RDA and UL, this is the only value that you can find on the label of the supplement bottle. The DV is basically the amount of a vitamin or nutrient that an average person should get from a 2,000 calories-a-day diet. If you’re having trouble keeping all of this straight, just remember that the RDA and the DV can be used as guidelines to help your body get all of the nutrients it needs.
What supplements should I take?
If you’re wondering about whether to take supplements, the InsideTracker blood analysis will provide you with information that you need to make an informed decision about supplementation. In addition to alerting you to sub-optimal biomarker levels, the program will give you a personalized sample menu that will suggest different foods that contain the nutrients that your body may be lacking. However, if you suspect that you aren’t getting enough nutrients from your diet, ask your doctor if taking a supplement is right for you.
Many people have added these supplements to their dietary regimen:
Calcium: calcium is particularly important for postmenopausal women, a group that is most at risk for developing osteoporosis, or weakened bones. In addition to protecting our bones, calcium plays an important role in other physical functions, such as muscle contraction, nerve conduction, regulation of enzyme activity, and the formation of cell membranes.
Vitamin D: while you can get vitamin D from certain foods, it is most readily absorbed through exposure to the sun. If you live in an area with cold winters, seasonal changes, or don’t have the opportunity to get outside very often, you might have low levels of vitamin D. If your levels are sub-optimal, you might want to consider taking a supplement. Essential for bone health, vitamin D plays an important role in calcium absorption; the two nutrients are available combined in supplement. Vitamin D also promotes overall health and muscle strength.
Fish oils: the omega-3 fatty acids that are found in fish oil work to keep your heart healthy by improving blood cholesterol levels, and may also help maintain stable blood glucose levels and heart health. Omega-3s are important because the body cannot produce them, so you need to get them through your diet. If you don’t eat a lot of fish, walnuts, or flaxseeds, you might want to consider taking a supplement.
Folic acid: if you are a woman of child-bearing age and are thinking about having children, this nutrient is essential to helping to normal fetal brain and spinal cord development. Green, leafy vegetables and citrus fruits are good sources (and most bread products that are processed in the US are fortified with folic acid), but it’s a good idea to ask your doctor about taking a supplement if you think you aren’t getting enough from diet alone. Women who are pregnant should check any change to nutrition or exercise with their doctors.
Antioxidants: antioxidants are substances that may prevent potentially disease-producing cell damage that can result from natural bodily processes and from exposure to certain chemicals. Vitamins C and E, selenium, and beta-carotene are antioxidants that are commonly taken. InsideTracker measures white blood cell count and C-reactive protein, both of which can indicate inflammation.
Are supplements safe?
In general, supplements are safe. However, some can cause unpleasant side effects if you consume more than the UL from food and supplements combined. Read the label on the supplement bottle to make sure that you’re taking the appropriate dosage. Use the Food Menu feature in InsideTracker to figure out how much of a particular nutrient is in foods that you typically eat. An important fact to keep in mind is that with some vitamins and minerals, the RDA is pretty close to the UL, which means that it can be easy to take too much. Fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, E, and K can build up in the body and result in nutrient toxicity, so be sure to keep a close eye on the amount of these vitamins that you are taking.
You should also talk to your doctor about taking supplements. Some dietary supplements can interact with medications that you might be currently taking, so make sure that you and your doctor are in agreement about which supplements are right for your body. The best way to determine if you are deficient in any key nutrients is to have your blood analyzed, whether by a doctor’s office or with a service like InsideTracker. With this information, you will be able to make sure you are getting the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy and perform at its peak!