With vitamins promising everything from stress relief to smoother skin, improved immunity, and illness prevention, we’re collectively turning to supplements more than ever before. Heck, those brightly coloured Flintstones gummies have been approved for children as young as two years old. But do vitamins work? Do we all need to complement our everyday diets with them? And how is one supposed to choose? Enter: Edel Warke, Lead Dietitian at King’s College Hospital London in Dubai. Here, she separates fact from fiction across vitamins C, D, and B12 before delving into the subject of multivitamins. Take note!
Vitamin C is effective for preventing and/or fighting off colds.
“Vitamin C is an antioxidant, and has an important role in the immune system. Studies have shown that supplementing with vitamin C does not reduce the incidence of common colds in the general population. It has, however, been shown to reduce the severity and duration of colds.”
The best source of vitamin C is citrus fruits.
“Citrus fruits are an excellent source of vitamin C. It can also be found in kiwi, blackcurrant, mango, papaya, and sweet potato.”
75mg of vitamin C is recommended, but more will further develop immunity.
“The recommended amount differs across countries and is dependent on age and gender. Generally, 40-75mg per day is recommended, although people who smoke need slightly more. Having said that, taking high-dose supplements can lead to diarrhoea and kidney stones.”
Living in Dubai, most of us have a vitamin D deficiency.
“Many people in Dubai have a vitamin D deficiency despite the ample sunshine! Most likely, this is because we often cover up when we’re in the sun, wear sun protection to avoid burning our skin, or even stay indoors because it is so hot outside.”
Vitamin D cannot be absorbed through food.
“Vitamin D is present in some foods and can be absorbed, but it is very difficult to get enough from food. Some food sources include oily fish like salmon and egg yolks. It’s also added to breakfast cereals sometimes.”
Taking 1,000 IU of vitamin D daily eliminates the need for exposure to sunlight.
“The best way to check if you need a supplement is through a vitamin D blood test. Your doctor will then advise what dose of vitamin D supplement you need. This is important as some people will need more than others to ensure a good level of vitamin D, which is important for strong bones and a healthy immune system.”
Vitamin B12 helps boost energy levels.
“Vitamin B12 helps to release energy from food and is also involved in making red blood cells. If you have vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia, you are likely to have extreme tiredness and lethargy.”
Vegans and vegetarians tend to have a vitamin B12 deficiency.
“Vitamin B12 is only present in animal products like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products, so people who limit animal foods are more likely to be deficient and therefore may require a supplement.”
Because it’s a water-soluble vitamin, getting too much can’t be dangerous.
“We don’t know what type of side effects could happen from taking too much vitamin B12. However, it may be dangerous. If you take a supplement, you should take 2mg or less per day as this is unlikely to cause any harm.”
A multivitamin can cover all your vitamin needs.
“Nutrients function better when they are consumed from whole foods rather than from supplements. By eating a healthy varied diet, it’s likely that you will get all the nutrients you need – unless you have dietary restrictions – with the exception being vitamin D. A multivitamin can be useful if micronutrient intake is low. However, my advice would be to focus on getting what you need from a balanced diet.”
Multivitamins are enough to prevent illness.
“It is unlikely that multivitamins will prevent illness. To support your immune function, focus on a healthy and balanced diet, drinking sufficient water, exercising regularly, sleeping well, and managing stress.”
Multivitamins are unnecessary if one’s diet is balanced.
“Correct. Any vitamin supplementation should be decided on an individual basis. For example, if you have a specific deficiency, are excluding major components from your diet (e.g. vegetarian/vegan), or fall into certain groups of the population (such as pregnant women and young children).”
Multivitamins are a must for picky eaters and/or those on restricted diets.
“This is when a multivitamin might be useful. However, make sure you stick to the dosage on the label, and check that the nutrients in the multivitamin do not overlap with any other supplements you’re taking. Those taking medications should check with their doctor before starting any new supplement, while a dietitian can check whether you’re getting enough of the essential nutrients in the diet and give individual advice of which supplements to take.”
Countless brands make multivitamins – but they’re all essentially the same.
“Many supplements contain similar amounts of vitamins and minerals. Although requirements vary with age and gender, some brands create more specific multivitamins depending on these factors, making it more specific to the individual.”