Vitamins and minerals are nutrients our bodies need in small amounts to help them stay healthy and work properly. Without these nutrients, we're more vulnerable to illness, and can develop conditions such as anaemia, rickets or eyesight problems.
Most of us can get the vitamins and minerals we need from a healthy, balanced diet. However, sometimes factors like having restrictive dietary requirements, being time-poor, or having certain medical conditions can make it difficult to get everything your body requires to work at its best. Therefore, some groups of people can benefit from taking a food supplement.
It should be noted that food supplements are intended to supplement the vitamin and mineral levels you get from a varied diet including plenty of fruit and vegetables. Taking supplements isn’t designed to be a replacement for eating well.
What are vitamins & minerals?
There are thirteen essential vitamins which can all be found in different foods. There are 22 minerals that are essential to human health. These are found in the soil in which our plants grow. When we eat these plants, we can benefit from the minerals they absorb.
Who can benefit from taking vitamin & mineral supplements?
We Advise to protect your baby's delicate skin from the sun. Because our bodies make vitamin D naturally when exposed to sunlight, this makes it harder for babies to get enough vitamin D. For this reason, it's recommended that breastfed babies are given vitamin D drops from birth. Formula-fed babies drinking at least 500ml of milk a day don't need any extra vitamin D or any other supplements, as formula has vitamins A, C and D added.
Children aged six months to five years
Growing children need sun protection, and can be fussy eaters, so they don’t always get enough vitamin A, C or D. It’s recommended all children aged six months to five years take a daily supplement containing vitamins A, C and D, unless they continue to drink 500ml or more of formula each day.
Pregnant women, or women trying to get pregnant
Taking 400mcg of folic acid a day, from pre-conception to week 12 of pregnancy, significantly reduces the risk of your baby developing neural tube defects, like spina bifida. Some women are at higher risk of their baby having a neural tube defect. You may need a higher daily dose of 5mg folic acid if:
- You have diabetes
- You’re a smoker
- You are obese (with a BMI of over 30)
- You have sickle-cell disease
- You’re taking anti-epileptic medication
- You or your partner have a neural tube defect
- You've had a previous pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
- There's a family history of neural tube defects
Speak to your Doctor if any of the above points apply to you as they can prescribe the higher dose folic acid you may need.
People who are not regularly exposed to the sun
Our bodies naturally make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight. But between September and March, getting enough sunlight is tricky, particularly if you work or study indoors. Only small amounts of vitamin D can be found in foods.
For this reason, it's recommended by the government that everyone over the age of five considers taking a supplement containing 10 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D during the autumn and winter months.
You should consider a year-round vitamin D supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D if:
- You wear clothes that cover most of your skin when outdoors
- You are housebound or rarely go outside
- You have black or brown skin
How much of each nutrient should I take?
Vitamins, minerals and supplement products are labelled with how much of your NRV (nutrient reference value) they contain. The NRV is a guidance level to meet the daily needs of the average healthy adult.
So, if a supplement contains 100 percent of your NRV of a nutrient, it should contain all you need of that nutrient in a day. Your doctor may advise you to take a higher or lower amount than the NRV as your requirements may be different – the NRV is simply an average that applies to most healthy adult people.
There’s no proven benefit to taking more than the NRV of any vitamin or mineral.
Vitamins like C and B vitamins are water-soluble and cannot be stored in the body. This means that anything your body doesn’t need immediately is simply expelled in your urine. Vitamins like A, D, E and K are fat-soluble. Your body will store any excess. Taking significantly more than the NRV of vitamins over a long period of time can be harmful.
Is it dangerous to take too much of a vitamin?
There are some foods you should limit your intake of because of their vitamin levels. One example of this is liver or liver products such as pâté, which you should eat no more than once a week because the vitamin A levels are so high. Excess vitamin A can be dangerous, especially to the health of an unborn baby. This is why pregnant women are advised to avoid liver and liver-containing products.
If you eat liver or other foods with very high levels of vitamin A once a week, you don’t need a supplement. Remember, cod liver oil supplements often contain vitamin A, so be sure to carefully check the packaging of any supplements you’re taking. A total of 1.5mg per day is the most vitamin A you should be consuming from food and supplement sources.
Most people don’t have to worry about consuming excess amounts of vitamins through their food intake alone.
If you have any questions about vitamins or supplements, whether you would benefit from taking a supplement, or which might be most suitable for you, speak to your pharmacist or Doctor. If you think you might have a deficiency, visit your Doctor.
- Eat a healthy, balanced and varied diet to make sure you're getting lots of nutrients
- If you're not sure if you might benefit from a supplement, talk to your doctor or pharmacist for advice
symptoms of a vitamin deficiency, see your Doctor straight away