For most, having a healthy lifestyle is a top priority. Eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly are often the first things people think of when looking to make positive lifestyle changes. However, many people who are active and eat well can still be missing out on certain nutrients without realizing it. To make up for nutrient deficiencies, there are many over-the-counter vitamin and supplements options — so many that it can be hard to figure out which ones could benefit you.
What are the most common vitamins and supplements and what do they do?
Choosing the vitamins and supplements that are right for your body and lifestyle can be overwhelming, but educating yourself on the most common options and their properties can help to alleviate this stress.
The primary function of vitamin D is to help the body absorb calcium, which is vital for bone health. In theory, people can get their daily recommended dose of vitamin D by being in the sunlight for 15 minutes. In reality, more than 40 percent of Americans don’t spend enough time in the sun each day to achieve this. Vitamin D intake is also diminished by wearing sunscreen and it is not commonly found in food. ¹
Magnesium is essential for regulating the nervous system, easing sleep problems, balancing blood sugar, and making proteins in the body. Magnesium is in many foods, but these foods may not be part of your regular diet. To get more magnesium into your system without a supplement, try eating more: ¹
Fish oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which supports heart health and brain function. Fish oil is found naturally in fatty fish tissue such as herring, tuna, anchovies, and mackerel. If you don’t eat 1-2 servings of fish per week, supplementing with fish oil can help you get enough omega-3s. ²
Vitamin C has many functions in the body, from protecting against cardiovascular disease and prenatal health issues to working against eye disease and skin wrinkling. Recent studies suggest that the list of known benefits of vitamin C may continue to grow. To get enough vitamin C in your diet alone, experts recommend eating five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. If this doesn’t fit your lifestyle, try adding a vitamin C supplement to your daily routine. ³
A B-complex vitamin is made up of eight different B vitamins, most notably vitamin B-12. Vitamin B-12 creates and sustains your energy supply by breaking down foods and identifying the micronutrients your body needs. Vegans and vegetarians are most susceptible to vitamin B-12 deficiency because many B vitamins are found in animal products. ¹
More than 40 percent of the U.S. population does not consume enough calcium in their diet. Calcium is a mineral necessary for fortifying bones and teeth. As individuals age, their bone density decreases, but consuming more calcium-rich foods (like dairy, broccoli, and beans) or taking a calcium supplement can resolve this. ¹
CoQ10, or Coenzyme Q10, is an antioxidant that protects cells from damage and helps to regulate metabolism. Most people have enough CoQ10 naturally, but it is often depleted in those who take cholesterol medication. If you are taking prescription cholesterol medication, talk to your pharmacist about nutrient depletion and the benefits of adding a supplement to your daily routine. ⁴
Zinc is a major player in supporting the immune system. The average American diet is not rich in zinc, so adding a zinc supplement can compensate for this and help boost your body’s ability to fight off infections and heal wounds. ¹
Who needs to take vitamins and supplements? ⁵
Not everyone needs to supplement their diet to be healthy, but there are certain demographic groups who are more likely to be nutrient deficient than others. People in these groups should consult a pharmacist to discuss adding a vitamin or supplement to their diet.
Pregnancy can deplete a pregnant woman’s iron and folic acid levels, which is why prenatal vitamins are often encouraged.
Infants and Children
Infants and young children are more likely to need to supplement their diets with iron and vitamin D than older populations.
Those on a Restricted Diet
Someone with a restricted diet, whether by choice or necessity may have difficulty getting all the nutrients they need from diet alone. Examples would be vegetarians, vegans, or people with a dairy allergy. Often these individuals do not get enough vitamin B-12, iron, or calcium.
Those Aged 50 or Older
Adults absorb less vitamin D and vitamin B-12 as they age. To combat this, individuals should begin considering which vitamins and supplements to take as they near middle age if they have never taken them before.
Those Taking Certain Medications
Medications can deplete the body of nutrients, and this is especially true for those taking medications for a chronic condition. If you are taking prescription medications, discuss nutrient depletion with your pharmacist. They will be able to recommend the correct vitamins and supplements to resolve your nutrient depletion and avoid any harmful drug interactions.
Those who have had Gastric Bypass Surgery
Many nutrients are absorbed in the gut. This means that if an individual has had gastric bypass surgery, the gut may not absorb nutrients as well as it did before.
Those Living with Certain Genetic or Health Conditions
Some genetic and health conditions make it more difficult for the body to absorb nutrients. These conditions include:
An autoimmune disorder
A mutation in certain genes
What are the symptoms of a nutrient deficiency?
Many people do not realize they have a nutrient deficiency because the symptoms may be mild or inconsistent. It is important to take any new symptoms seriously and discuss them with your healthcare provider.
Some common symptoms of nutrient deficiency are: ⁶
Bone or joint pain
Fatigue or extreme tiredness
Wounds that heal slowly
How do I choose the right vitamins and supplements for me?
Understanding the most common nutrient deficiencies and what causes them is the first step in deciding which vitamins and supplements to take. Factors like age, diet, and health conditions play a large role in determining what deficiencies an individual may have, and others may not need to take over-the-counter vitamins or supplements at all.
To receive a recommendation from an expert, discuss your health history with your doctor or pharmacist. Healthcare professionals who are familiar with your health, your medications, and your lifestyle are best-suited to help you find the right supplement for your needs.