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Patient education: Vitamin supplements (The Basics)

Patient education: Vitamin supplements (The Basics)

What are vitamins? — Vitamins are substances found in food. Most vitamins are substances the body can't make on its own but that it needs to work well.

Vitamin supplements are pills, capsules, or liquids that have vitamins in them. Supplements are another way (besides food) that people can get vitamins.

Should I take vitamin supplements? — You probably do not need to take vitamin supplements if you are generally healthy and you eat a good diet. But it probably won't hurt to take a multivitamin or small doses of individual vitamins.

Experts recommend that most adults get their vitamins from food rather than from supplements. That's because eating vitamin-rich foods has other benefits besides getting you the vitamins you need. Still, there are some cases in which vitamin supplements can be helpful. For example, women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant soon should take certain supplements. This is discussed in more detail below. There are also some groups of people who might benefit from vitamin supplements. These include:

Adults age 65 and older – Older adults might benefit from taking 600 to 800 units of vitamin D a day. This might help strengthen bones and prevent falls.

People with vitamin deficiencies – A vitamin deficiency is when a person does not have enough of a particular vitamin for good health. People with vitamin deficiencies sometimes need to take vitamin supplements. If you have a vitamin deficiency, your doctor will tell you which supplements to take and at what dose. You might even need to get vitamin shots.

People who have had weight loss surgery – People who have had weight loss surgery often can't get all the vitamins they need from food. If you have had weight loss surgery, ask your doctor if you need supplements. He or she can tell you which ones are best for you.

People who do not eat any animal products (called "vegans") – People who do not eat meat, eggs, milk, or other foods that come from animals sometimes need supplements. If you follow a vegan diet, ask your doctor or nurse if you should take any vitamin supplements.

Are there any vitamin supplements I should not take? — Yes. Here are some vitamins supplements that can cause problems:

Vitamin A – In places where people have good access to healthy food, such as the United States and Europe, doctors recommend against taking vitamin A supplements. That's because vitamin A supplements might increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, and bone fractures. In pregnant women, taking too much vitamin A can harm the baby.

Vitamin E – Doctors recommend against taking vitamin E supplements. Studies suggest that vitamin E supplements might increase the risk of dying.

What's the best way to get the vitamins I need from food? — The best way is to eat a diet that includes a lot of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and not a lot of meats or fatty foods. Some vitamins are found only in food that comes from animals, such as meat or eggs. But overall, fruits and vegetables have the highest concentrations of vitamins. Fruits and vegetables also have lots of fiber and other ingredients that generally promote good health.

What if I want to get pregnant? — If you want to try to get pregnant, take a "prenatal" multivitamin every day that has at least 400 micrograms of folic acid (one of the B vitamins). Start taking the multivitamin at least a month before you actually start trying to get pregnant. Folic acid (sometimes called folate) helps prevent some birth defects.

It is important not to take too much of any vitamin during pregnancy, especially vitamin A. Show your doctor or nurse the vitamins you plan to take to make sure the doses are safe for you and your baby.

More on this topic

Patient education: Vitamin B12 deficiency and folate (folic acid) deficiency (The Basics)
Patient education: Vitamin D deficiency (The Basics)
Patient education: Calcium and vitamin D for bone health (The Basics)
Patient education: How to plan and prepare for a healthy pregnancy (The Basics)
Patient education: Nutrition before and during pregnancy (The Basics)
Patient education: Diet and health (The Basics)
Patient education: Health and nutrition during breastfeeding (The Basics)
Patient education: Vegetarian diet (The Basics)

Patient education: Calcium and vitamin D for bone health (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Vitamin D deficiency (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Diet and health (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Maternal health and nutrition during breastfeeding (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 03, 2022.
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