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Are vitamins good for what ails you?

Written by: Fran Berkoff, QMI Agency
Apr. 15, 2013

Taking a multivitamin is part of many people's routine these days. A visit to the drug store can be pretty overwhelming when it comes to making your choices and then deciding whether a multivitamin will do or whether you should take individual supplements. And, of course, the question I hear most often is whether you should be taking anything at all. And, can a pill make up for a shortfall in what you are eating?

A multivitamin can fill in the gaps in your diet. For example, if you are allergic to a group of foods that are rich in vitamin C or folate, you may need a supplement to make up for what you're missing. Also, there are particular stages in one's life or certain circumstances where a supplement may be necessary. But, what a supplement won't do is make up for poor eating habits. If your diet is high in unhealthy fats or sodium, a pill won't correct it. And, supplements won't provide fibre or the array of plant chemicals found in plant foods. It's the natural mix of vitamins, minerals, plant chemicals and fibre found in food that makes whole foods your perfect vitamin pill and disease fighter!

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A daily multivitamin may not necessarily protect against chronic illness in healthy adults but there are reasons why certain people should consider taking one. These include:

* Pregnant women are advised to take a multivitamin with adequate iron and folic acid to support the demands of pregnancy.

* A multi-supplement with 400 mcg of folic acid is recommended for all women who could become pregnant.

* For many menstruating women, getting the required 18 mg of iron can be challenging and a multivitamin with 10 to 18 mg may be warranted.

* People on very low calorie or otherwise restricted diets will likely benefit from a multivitamin.

* Vegetarians require almost twice as much iron as non-vegetarians and may have difficulty meeting this need with diet alone.

* The newest guidelines for vitamin D suggest 600 IU for people up to age 70 and 800 IU for people over 70. It's almost impossible to get this from diet alone.

* Adults over 50 may not be absorbing enough vitamin B12 from foods and are advised to get it from supplements or fortified foods.

When it comes to taking individual vitamins, it's helpful to get some guidelines so you won't overdo it. For example, 18 mg is the recommended iron for pregnant and premenopausal women. But, men and post-menopausal women only need 8 mg per day. Multivitamins have a range of iron in them and you want to take one that is right for you.

Some studies suggested that calcium supplements may increase heart disease risk but there has been some debate about this. When it comes to bone health, calcium is still important so a wise solution could be trying to meet your needs (1,000 mg per day for those under 50, or 1,200 mg per day for those 51 and older) through food first and then make up the difference through supplements.

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