Why this dietitian takes a multi-vitamin mineral supplement

SnacksDietitians are quick to tell you that you can get all of the nutrients you need from your diet. True enough, but just how many of us eat healthfully every day? A multi-vitamin mineral supplement “when taken regularly can be an effective way to increase nutrient intakes to meet recommended levels of nutrients,” according to the position stand of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Who can benefit from taking a supplement? Look at this list:

  • Calorie restrictors
  • Food group eliminators
  • Older adults
  • Pregnant women
  • Strict vegetarians or vegans
  • Those with chronic health issues

I fall into a couple of those categories. Research from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) shows that a large percentage of older adults fall short in getting adequate amounts of vitamins A, C, D, E, and the minerals calcium and magnesium. As we age we are a greater risk for bone loss and vitamin D, calcium and magnesium are all important for healthy bones.

For me, I take the supplement to add to my diet, not as a substitute. I still eat well but a multi helps ensure that I get needed nutrients every day. I don’t take a handful of pills of individual nutrients, but just a well-formulated multi for women 50+. An older woman recently wrote to me and asked if she should take a prenatal vitamin; the answer was a resounding “no.” Why? Well, for starters she wasn’t pregnant, but she was post-menopausal  so she needs less iron, not more, after menopause. My multi has no iron; prenatal vitamins have 28 milligrams or 150% of the recommended amount.

Another reason I like a formulation designed for older women is that it contains more vitamin D than most multi-vitamin supplements. Aging skin makes less vitamin D and we are less efficient at converting vitamin D from sunlight in the liver and kidneys as we age. There are not many food sources with naturally occurring vitamin D, so I am sure to get an adequate intake from my daily pill. And, while we always think natural is better, a synthetic form of vitamin B-12 is easier to digest and absorb as we age.

A recent survey from the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), a trade group representing the supplement industry and ingredient suppliers, found that those of us over the age of 63 use the following supplements:

  • 69% take a multivitamin
  • 48% take vitamin D
  • 40% take calcium
  • 30% take vitamin C
  • 27% take omega-3-fatty acids (“fish oil”)

When asked why they take supplements, the majority say for overall health and wellness. While a multi is not a substitute for good health, it may be a surrogate for a healthy lifestyle. Supplement users tend to eat well, exercise, and not smoke.

When choosing a vitamin-mineral supplement, look for a reputable company. You get what you pay for with supplements. I also suggest looking for verification that the supplement contains what is says it contains and doesn’t contain any tainted substances. I look for the USP-verified symbol to make sure I am getting a quality supplement.

Lastly, remember that supplementing a bad diet still results in a bad diet. And, more isn’t better when it comes to supplements. Always follow the dosing instructions.

For more information on CRN survey and information on supplements in general, visit http://www.crnusa.org/

You can also find information on supplements and healthy aging at Nutrition 411 at http://www.nutrition411.com/home

Disclosures: I am on the editorial board for Nutrition 411 as an unpaid editorial board member to provide peer-review of content. I am not a consultant to any supplement group and have no ties to the industry.