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Vitamins and Supplements: Do We Really Need Them?

This week we dive into the world of multivitamins, you know that dusty little tub that sits in your cupboard? Most probably out of date by now too. Well I thought it would be wise to really show you what they are. We are all trying to become the best versions of ourselves in 2021 and perhaps lose a few pounds too… and keep as healthy as possible! But don't try dust off those multivitamins and down them like smarties thinking you will turn into the next Arnold Schwarzeregger - if anything they can do more bad than good! Irrespective of if they have orange gummy men on the front or David Gandy, you must consult medical professionals before starting any vitamins.

What Is In A Multi-Vitamin?

As the name suggests, multivitamins contain a myriad of essential vitamins and minerals that are vital to the running of your body. They can be available in capsule, tablet, gummy, or liquid form and normally taken daily. Thirteen vitamins and at least 16 minerals are essential to your health. Typical vitamins include A,C,D,K, iron, and calcium and many more. Many of them aid enzyme reactions in your body or function as signalling molecules. These nutrients are needed for growth, reproduction, regulation of bodily processes.

What Do Multi-Vitamins Do?

Multivitamins ensure that people meet their daily requirements for key vitamins the body needs, for example:

  • Vitamin A: helping your body's natural defence against illness and infection and keeping skin healthy.
  • Vitamin C: Maintaining healthy skin, blood vessels, bones and cartilage, helping with wound healing.
  • Vitamin D: These nutrients are needed to keep bones, teeth, and muscles healthy.
  • Vitamin K: Vitamins that the body needs for blood clotting, helping wounds to heal - there's also some evidence vitamin K may help keep bones healthy.

Should I Take Multi-Vitamins?

Most people should get all the nutrients they need by having a varied and balanced diet, although some people may need to take extra supplements. Many people choose to take supplements but taking too much or taking them for too long could be harmful. The Department of Health and Social Care recommends certain supplements for some groups of people who are at risk of deficiency: 

  • Pregnant: If you're pregnant, trying for a baby or could get pregnant, it's recommended that you take a 400 microgram folic acid supplement every day until you're 12 weeks pregnant. Folic acid supplements need to be taken before you get pregnant, so start taking them before you stop using contraception or if there's a chance you might get pregnant. Folic acid can help to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. However, vitamin A should be avoided in pregnant women as an excess of vitamin can cause birth defects. It is advised to consult your GP or pharmacist before starting any vitamin therapy.
  • Vegans and Vegetarians: As vitamin B12 is only found in animal foods, you’re at a higher risk if you follow a plant-based diet. You may also be lacking in calcium, zinc, iron, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Older Adults:Vitamin B12 absorption decreases with age. Older adults may also need more calcium and vitamin D to help maintain healthy bones, this is especially important during the months of September and March where we do not get an effective amount of vitamin D from the weather, a supplement is often needed.

What Foods Can I Eat Instead of Taking a Vitamin? 

Whole foods tend to be loaded with nutrients, getting your nutrients from foods is better than getting them from supplements. That said, some foods are much more nutritious than others. In some cases, one serving of a food can satisfy more than 100% of your daily requirements for one or more nutrients.

Yellow bell peppers - Yellow bell peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C. One large specimen provides almost 600% of the recommended daily allowance (RDI) — up to 4 times more than oranges. It’s also water-soluble, meaning your body doesn’t store extra amounts. Therefore, regularly consuming vitamin C is very important.

Cod liver oil - Cod liver oil is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and vitamin A. However, taking more than 1–2 tablespoons per day is not recommended. Vitamin D is essential for bone health – too little vitamin D can lead to a condition more commonly known as rickets.

Liver - Liver contains very high amounts of vitamin B12, vitamin A, and copper. Yet, it should not be consumed more than once or twice per week  as you may run the risk of nutrient toxicity.

Kale - A single serving of fresh kale provides a good proportion of the RDI for vitamin K and C. Furthermore, kale is high in fibre, manganese, vitamin B6, potassium, and iron.

Shellfish - Clams and oysters both contain high amounts of vitamin B12, which is especially important for older adults -  they are also high in many other nutrients.

So, if you feel like you aren't getting enough vitamins in your life then this certainly might be the answer to all your prayers, but please be mindful that what you are putting in your body can affect what medicines you take, as well as potentially doing more harm than good. So please speak to your local pharmacist or GP if you are wanting to trial some vitamins to become a healthier and happier you.


Author Matthew Jennings

MRPharmS

Clinically Reviewed By:

Ibrahim Nakib BSc(Hons) MRPharmS