Q: I know that vitamin D-3 is beneficial, but what about others? If vitamins do help, which ones should most people take daily in order to stay healthy? I try to eat well, but sometimes it’s more carbs than fruits and veggies.
While it’s true that following a balanced, nutritious diet should provide you with most of the nutrients you need, factors such as age, health conditions, and lifestyle choices can increase your need for certain vitamins and minerals.
Vitamin D-3 is perhaps one of the most well-known vitamins many people are deficient in, especially during the winter months.
However, there are many other vitamins and minerals people may need to supplement with for a variety of reasons.
As we grow older, our ability to absorb vitamin B-12 decreases because our body produces less stomach acid. In fact, up to 30 percent of people over the age of 50 may not produce enough stomach acid to properly absorb vitamin B-12 (1).
What’s more, older adults are commonly deficient in other B vitamins (such as B-6 and folate). For these reasons, it’s a good idea for people over 50 to take a high-quality B-complex vitamin.
Certain medications have been shown to deplete specific nutrients. They include:
- birth control
- proton pump inhibitors for acid reflux, such as Prilosec (2)
- drugs that lower cholesterol
- certain diabetes medications
Speak with your doctor if you’re concerned about drug-related nutrient depletion.
Some medical conditions can increase your need for specific nutrients, such as:
- type 2 diabetes
- Crohn's disease
- kidney disease
- eating disorders
For example, people with type 2 diabetes excrete magnesium through their urine, increasing the need to replace magnesium stores through diet or supplements (3).
Other factors that increase nutrient needs are pregnancy and breastfeeding, following a poor diet, smoking, and genetic mutations such as MTHFR. Vegans and strict vegetarians also need to supplement with nutrients, such as B-12, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.
For generally healthy people who eat a varied diet, taking a multivitamin is likely not necessary. However, adding the following supplements to a healthy diet may benefit most people:
- Vitamin D. In the winter months as sunlight exposure dwindles, taking a high-quality vitamin D-3 supplement is important for most people. Your healthcare provider can suggest a dose depending on your blood levels of vitamin D.
- Omega-3. High-quality fish oil pills may contribute to overall health, as these supplements have been shown to reduce inflammation and benefit heart health. Those taking blood-thinning medications should consult their doctor before taking fish oil pills.
- B-complex vitamins. Adding a good-quality B-complex vitamin to your routine is a smart choice, as B vitamins may have a positive impact on energy levels and overall cellular health. B-complex supplements may be particularly helpful for people over 50 and those who eat a limited diet.
Keep in mind that eating a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods is the best way to ensure you’re providing your body with what it needs to thrive. Supplements can never offer the complex array of benefits that whole foods provide.
Remember, it’s important to buy supplements from a trusted, independently tested brand, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate the quality of supplements like they do for drugs. And as always, be sure to follow proper dosage recommendations.
Jillian Kubala is a Registered Dietitian based in Westhampton, NY. Jillian holds a master's degree in nutrition from Stony Brook University School of Medicine as well as an undergraduate degree in nutrition science. Aside from writing for Healthline Nutrition, she runs a private practice based on the east end of Long Island, NY, where she helps her clients achieve optimal wellness through nutritional and lifestyle changes. Jillian practices what she preaches, spending her free time tending to her small farm that includes vegetable and flower gardens and a flock of chickens. Reach out to her through her website or on Instagram.