27 June 2011

Health Naturally ~ PART 3: Vitamins and you!

Source guardian.co.uk
Taking a daily multivitamin probably started way back in your childhood days. And as adults, some of you have possibly taken this practice right along with you and maybe, even passed it on to your children. There is much talk surrounding the use of vitamins and supplements. On the one hand, we hear that they are good for the overall functioning of the body. Then on the other, we read or are made to understand that buying vitamins is a total waste of money. 

I, for one, am not sidetracked by that issue. But, rather, are all brands made equally? Or, are some more equal than others? Especially in terms of the ingredients, etc. Is what you say on the bottle really IN the bottle? These types of questions usually leave me in quandary and I tend to just leave the health food store without making a purchase.

In Part 3 of the Health Naturally series, we will present you with the facts and hopefully leave you better informed and able to make the best decisions for you and your family.  I am really happy to welcome back Kareen, RD. She holds a Masters in Public Health from a Southern California university. Kareen's health blog, iameatingright, let's you into her world of healthy eating, diet and exercise. So pay her a visit sometime!


Naturaleza: Welcome back, Kareen! It's been sometime but it is great to have you join us again on .::Naturaleza::.

Kareen: It's great to be here again sharing with everyone.

Naturaleza: Let's jump right into our discussion for Part 3. There are two opposing views surrounding taking vitamin supplements. What is your take on the issue? Do they really make the difference to the overall functioning of the body?

Kareen: As with everything related to health, there are opposing opinions. My personal opinion has changed on the issue over the past couple of years. Before I firmly believed that supplementing with vitamins was a waste but not anymore. Because of the rise in industrial farming, most of the soil is depleted of its vitamin and mineral content. Combine that with the long distance that fruit and vegetables travel to get to you and you can see that the fresh food that lands on our plates is lacking in essential nutrients. So even with a balanced diet, even eating local may not be enough. 

On a more practical level, some of the food sources that contain high amounts of vitamins and minerals are not the ones that people eat frequently. For example, liver is a good source of many vitamins and minerals but not often seen on people's plates :)

Naturaleza, you mentioned reading some articles questioning the safety of vitamin intake. There are other articles which indicate quite the opposite. Kristen, from Kristen's Raw, posted a great article on her blog which I will invite your readers to see: No Deaths from Vitamins in 27 years.

Naturaleza: I found the article quite interesting actually. Thank you. My next question has to deal with the terms 'health supplement' and 'vitamin'. Is there a differentiation to be made?

Kareen: From my observation, health supplements will include other ingredients besides vitamins and minerals (for example, herbs, protein or carbohydrates). You will likely find that health supplements have a higher caloric value. A vitamin supplement will only contain vitamins and minerals and one pill is about five calories.

Naturaleza: In your estimation, Kareen, what are some the best vitamins for men, women (childbearing age and menopausal), children and even students?

Kareen: All vitamins and minerals are important for both genders and all age groups. The difference lies in the amount. Children, teens and women of child-bearing age require increased amounts. Menopausal women will require less iron. Here are some links to the recommended daily amounts for each life stage based on gender:

Dietary Reference Intakes: Recommended Dietary Allowances

Dietary Reference Intakes: Estimated Average Requirements

This information is from the US. But each country should have their own guidelines so make sure to check for them!

Naturaleza: Why should pregnant women use folic acid?

Kareen: Actually, all women of child-bearing age should ensure that they have adequate intake of folic acid, a B-vitamin, whether through diet, supplementation or a combination of both. Waiting until becoming pregnant may be too late. Inadequate folic acid intake can lead to neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. Birth defects can occur within the first three to four weeks of pregnancy at which point most women are not even aware that they are pregnant. Pre-pregnancy, a woman should try to consume at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily. During pregnancy, the amount increases to at least 600 mcg and during lactation at least 500 mcg. Top food sources include fortified cereals, braised beef liver, boiled blackeyed peas, boiled frozen spinach and boiled great northern beans.

Naturaleza: In my case, I have tried so many times to stick to a particular multivitamin, but nothing works. I will instantly have an upset stomach from what I fear was the iron content. Is there a way of getting around this?

Kareen: I have had that reaction, too!  I'm not sure if it was the iron or not but I kept trying different brands. What finally worked was taking the vitamin pill with food. That helped immensely! Iron can aggravate so there are low iron brands that are available for women. For specific and recommended types, I would definitely advise making an appointment with a physician.

Naturaleza: How can we tell though that our bodies are lacking a specific vitamin or vitamins on the whole?

Kareen: The best way to determine if someone is lacking in a vitamin or mineral is through a blood test. If you are not feeling well, see a physician and request that he/she send you for blood work. During a regular check-up, make the same request. 

Naturaleza: Kareen, this next question is definitely one that needs some clarity for me. So many companies are into manufacturing and selling vitamins. How do we, the confused consumer, make the best choices? Are there specific things to look out for?

Kareen: I recommend that people see a physician before beginning vitamin supplementation to ensure that they will not interact with any prescription medications and also to ensure that there aren't any imbalances that a supplement will not exacerbate or mask. Beyond the above, for healthy adults, I am a proponent of simpler is better. Personally, I choose a non-specific multivitamin that is mid-line in terms of price. What I mean by 'non-specific' is that I steer away from vitamins marketed to specific groups, i.e. the active woman, the older woman, etc. I also check out the nutrition facts label to ensure that the % Daily Value (%DV) does not exceed 100%. While toxicity related to vitamin intake is rare, from a consumer point of view, I would not go beyond 100% unless prescribed by a physician. You can have a look at the attached example of a nutrition facts label. The % Daily value column is highlighted in pink. Lastly, if you are taking a multi-vitamin, you likely do not also need to supplement with individual vitamins. Again, to reduce the chances of an adverse reactions, you should avoid taking a multi-vitamin and, for example, also vitamin C or a vitamin B complex separately. If you are vitamin-deficient and need more than 100% of the %DV, you should seek the advice of a physician before self-treating. 

Naturaleza: Are there any specific vitamins which aid in the growth and strengthening of hair and nails? Or, would this be better served through a correct diet?

Kareen: Because of the close relationship between each vitamin and mineral, I recommend focusing on a diet with varied intake of fruits and vegetables that can also include supplementation. I believe a holistic approach is the best way and decreases the possibility of toxicity and/or adverse reactions.

Biotin, a B-vitamin has gained increasing popularity among the Youtube community for hair growth. Biotin is necessary for cell growth, metabolizing fat and protein and is used in the treatment of malaria.

According to Medline Plus, there is insufficient evidence to support the benefits of Biotin on hair loss, hair and nail growth. If there any benefits to be seen, they will likely appear after several months of supplementation. The same website also indicates that Biotin supplementation is likely safe for otherwise healthy adults.

Naturaleza: If one does not take vitamins, from what natural sources can we gain the same benefits?

Kareen: There might be differences in the manufacturing of a vitamin supplement: gelatin caps vs vegetable-based caps, liquid vs pill, source of ingredients, concentration of ingredients, for example; but essentially the options are the same.The main focus, whether or not you take a vitamin supplement, should be your diet. If one chooses not to supplement, that is fine but I would recommend purchasing local and organic foods as much as possible to ensure the highest possible vitamin and mineral content. Ideally, vitamin supplementation should be a complement to your diet not a replacement. 

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This post is definitely chalked full of information! So much to read and digest.

I really must thank Kareen for her thoughtful and very informative contributions to this discussion. 

We are at your disposal with any questions or comments which you may have. You can also visit Kareen over on her blog. We both welcome your participation!


  1. Iameatingright27 June 2011 at 23:18

    Thanks again for the invite to do this series, Tasha! This was fun!

  2. Fergalemmanuel28 June 2011 at 05:41

    Our body needs essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to repair your system and give us energy. As we can see, at 1000 calories, we are cutting off half of the nutrients it needs to perform its everyday functions. A vitamin is an organic compound required as a nutrient in tiny amounts by an organism. The term is conditional both on the circumstances and on the particular organism. For example, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is a vitamin for humans, but not for most other animals, and biotin and vitamin D are required in the human diet only in certain circumstances.
    Health and safety Toronto

  3. I really appreciate your work. I agree that the latest blog post is well-written and informative.


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