The 411 on Vitamins and Supplements
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Each year, millions of Americans make New Year’s Resolutions to overhaul their diets, embark on exercise regimens, start taking that new miracle pill Dr. Oz recommends… generally, we’re trying to feel better by any means necessary. Sometimes that desperation to slim down, get energized, and get out of a rut leads us clear out the drugstore supplement aisle willy nilly – but we should take the time to do some research before introducing extra vitamins and supplements into our diets.
The Mayo Clinic notes that many people take supplements as an insurance policy against inadequate nutrition or to prevent serious diseases, but it’s easy for a well-intentioned person to go astray, taking doses far in excess of what’s necessary for good health. Getting a blood test and conferring with your doctor about any vitamin and mineral deficiencies is advised before beginning a course of supplementation.
Here for your information are some of today’s most popular vitamins and supplements, along with info on their role in bodily function and food-based dietary sources.
Vitamin D: well known as the “sunshine vitamin,” this keystone nutrient can be manufactured by your body, provided you get at least 20 minutes per day of direct sunlight exposure. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus, keeping your bones and teeth healthy and strong.
Natural sources: sunlight, fortified milk, salmon, whole eggs.
Vitamin B1 / Thiamine: an energy generating powerhouse, Vitamin B1 helps the body metabolize carbohydrates and promotes nerve health.
Natural Sources: lentils, sunflower seeds, tuna, black beans.
Vitamin B2 / Riboflavin: aids in breaking down macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates), and helps maintain healthy, radiant skin.
Natural Sources: organ meats (especially liver), milk, cheese, carrots, and potatoes.
Vitamin B3 / Niacin: an all-star player for keeping the nervous system in keen condition, niacin also supports good digestion.
Natural sources: tuna, turkey or chicken breast meat, pork chops, and peanuts.
Vitamin A: not only does Vitamin A protect vision, it aids in bone growth and safeguards the immune system by keeping our mucous membrane healthy.
Natural Sources: sweet potatoes, kale, carrots, butternut squash, and dried apricots.
Vitamin C: a superstar antioxidant, Vitamin C boosts the immune system and protects the body from many attackers, from free radicals to the common cold virus. Vitamin C also promotes healthy connective tissue, so it might also help preserve your joints.
Natural Sources: bell peppers, kiwi fruit, strawberries, broccoli, guava and papaya.
Vitamin E: also an antioxidant, Vitamin E keeps the immune system strong, helps repair tissue damage, and boosts blood flow.
Natural Sources: sunflower seeds, spinach, almonds, avocados, and olive oil
Vitamin K: this one is vital for the coagulation of blood – if you don’t have enough, your blood won’t clot properly.
Natural Sources: green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, romaine lettuce, also Brussels sprouts and broccoli.
Folic Acid / Vitamin B9: safeguards against neural tube birth defects and is regularly prescribed for pregnant women or those seeking to become pregnant. Folic acid also helps the body create new cells, and helps stave off anemia.
Natural Sources: black-eyed peas, lentils, asparagus, spinach, and avocados.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: the body can’t manufacture these essential fats, so it’s crucial to get enough of them through your diet or by supplementation with a high-quality fish oil or krill oil. Numerous studies indicate that omega-3s are a powerful anti-inflammatory that could potentially lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes when teamed with healthy diet and exercise.
Natural Sources: salmon, chia seeds, flax seed oil, walnuts, and fish roe (caviar).
Probiotics: key helpers for replenishing good bacteria in your digestive system and maintaining law and order in the “gut biome” – that festival attended by millions of bacteria in the stomach, intestine, and colon – which can affect everything from your digestion to your mood. If buying a supplement, make sure the label avers the presence of at least 3 billion active organisms per serving, and refrigerate the probiotics to prolong organism life.
Natural Sources: yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, and unpasteurized cheeses.
Vitamin and Supplement Quality
Not all supplements are created equal. With no oversight by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), the supplement industry is largely self-regulating, making it very important for the consumer to protect themselves against fraudsters selling snake oil in place of fish oil.
Reputable manufacturers will sometimes use a third-party laboratory to conduct quality testing, but that procedure is costly – and not legally required – so the practice is not widespread. However, there are testing websites on the Internet that purchase random supplies of various supplements and test the products for purity, efficacy, and label accuracy. If you and your doctor agree that extra vitamins, minerals, or other supplements might be right for you, take the time to carefully read up on the brand you will be using. Otherwise, it might be a waste of money at best, or cause damage to your health at worst.
One such testing website, www.labdoor.com, offers consumers free access to information on hundreds of supplements, ranging from basic vitamins to protein powders and energy drinks. Another site, www.consumerlab.com, provides access to thousands of product reviews and lab results, but charges an annual subscription fee. Check them out before your next trip to the drugstore vitamin aisle.