Do you need to take vitamin supplements? A straightforward question without a simple answer.
The usual response would be that if you eat a variety of foods, you probably don’t need a supplement.
But I rethought this after listening to Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, one of the most respected voices in integrative medicine, at a recent nutrition conference.
Low Dog’s first point was that food is foundational. Food provides so much more than just vitamins and minerals. There is fiber, phytonutrients and the anti-inflammatory elements in plant-based foods. There is no substitute for great-tasting, nutrient-rich food.
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But unfortunately too many Americans are not in nutrient balance. Low Dog presented surprising data from the 2012 CDC Report on the Biochemical Indicators of Diet and Nutrition.
A few examples:
▪ 90 million people are vitamin D deficient.
▪ 30 million are deficient in vitamin B6.
▪ Women 25-39 have borderline iodine insufficiency.
The consequences of long-term deficiency might be subtle but damaging. Vitamin D, which is deficient in the majority of my patients, is critically important for calcium regulation, and low levels can cause muscle weakness and lower back pain. It also can protect against cancer and type 2 diabetes, the CDC reports.
Vitamin D is found in only a few foods — fish-liver oils, fatty fishes, mushrooms, egg yolks and liver. It’s also added to milk and can be absorbed into the skin from the sun.
Taking a multivitamin with minerals has few risks for someone in generally good health who wants to ensure vitamin/mineral sufficiency. But if you have a medical condition, concerns about your food intake or have been listening to too many infomercials and are now on a laundry list of supplements, I suggest you see a registered dietitian/nutritionist for a deeper dive into how to boost your diet and supplement when necessary.
I only recommend supplements after a complete assessment that includes looking at any potential interactions between prescribed medications and supplements. To find an registered dietitian/nutritionist, go to www.eatright.org. To find Low Dog’s informative website, go to https://drlowdog.com/
Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.