Mr. Raj Sharma is a software engineer. He needs to travel frequently for business meetings. He finds it extremely difficult to balance his busy schedule with a healthy diet. He prefers to eat packed or ready to eat food while travelling. Though he understands the importance of having fruits and vegetables to remain healthy, his busy lifestyle prevents him from following the healthy eating pattern. He finds it easier to depend on vitamin supplements for acquiring the much needed vitamins to remain healthy.
Let’s first understand the importance of vitamins for our body:
Vitamins play a fundamental role in the body’s metabolic process. There is no argument that these nutrients are essential for the normal growth and health of the body. Although they are needed in small amounts compared to carbohydrates and fats, they are vital for all bodily functions.
Vitamins are essential for performing various processes such as digestion as they help to metabolize starch and sugar to provide energy to the body.They also help in the formation of red blood cells and various neurotransmitters that helps to maintain nerve function.
Most vitamins cannot be manufactured by our body and hence we need to ingest them from outside sources. Our body can get the required amount of most of the essential vitamins from consuming at least five portions of fruits and vegetables a day. Dairy products, fish, meat and eggs are other sources that provide these essential nutrients.
Who needs vitamin supplements?
Vitamin Supplements should not be substituted for healthy food as they do not provide all the necessary nutrients needed by our body. If you have certain conditions like some listed below or if you are unable to eat healthy food during a brief period you may benefit from taking a vitamin supplement.
Vitamin supplements are generally suggested to:
- Pregnant and lactating women need vitamin supplements as they keep the mother healthy and are passed on to the baby through breast milk.
- Older individuals who have difficulty in eating due to dental difficulties or loss of appetite, may not be able to get complete nutrition from food.
- Many older people suffer from vitamin deficiency, as stomach acid secretion slows down in these people which decreases the efficiency of absorption in old age.
- Children or elders who eat less or have little desire to eat.
- Certain diseases or disorder like celiac, pernicious anemia etc may interfere with nutrient intake and absorption which may change the requirements. People afflicted by such diseases/disorders are suggested Vitamin supplements.
- Athletes who are doing intense training for sports may need vitamin supplements as vitamins and minerals trigger body processes for physical performance by helping produce energy from carbohydrate, fats and proteins.
- Individuals with injury that disrupts normal digestion of food also need vitamin supplements.
Well Known Physician Dr Ajit Shetty says, “Older people or all those who suffer from illnesses leading to malabsorption /people with poor dietary intake due to any reason require to take vitamin supplements”
There are various studies that prove that various old age diseases are related to vitamin deficiency. The deficiencies go unnoticed till the time there is a clinical diagnosis. It is advised that individuals above 40 should have routine check up to detect illness or deficiency at an early stage or to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
Vitamin supplements: Good or Bad?
Many urban Indians use multi vitamin pills as an insurance that protects them from the consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle. They believe that if they have this magical pill they can rely on junk food and still gain all the nutrition.
Dr. Ajit Shetty advises “Get yourself exposed to sunlight daily for acquiring vitamin D. If you have a proper balanced diet including a good proportion of fruits and vegetables all the required vitamins will be gained.”
Benefits of vitamin supplements:
- As we age, our bodies may need extra help to improve the all-round wellbeing and reduce the risk of various diseases. Vitamin supplements provide this extra help.
- They enhance your immune system by increasing the production of white blood cells that fight infection.
It is important to remember that having vitamin supplements without the consent of the doctor can be harmful to your health. The possible dangers of having vitamin supplements are:
- Vitamin pills provide a more concentrated source of a specific nutrient than food sources. This poses a greater risk of adverse reactions.
- A well balanced food adds fiber in addition to the other required nutrients while supplements do not provide fiber that food contains. Fiber helps to lower blood cholesterol, controls blood sugar levels and maintains bowel health.
- There are chances of over dose which may lead to nausea, nerve damage, muscle weakness, and other illnesses.
Dr Ajit Shetty says, “Hypervitaminosis has its own side effects. Studies have found increased incidence of lung cancer in people taking large doses of beta carotene.”
Taking vitamin supplements cannot be categorized as good or bad. They are essential for some individuals. However, having a well balanced meal is the best way to promote good health. It is also imperative to remember that nutritional supplements cannot substitute a healthy diet.