The world of nutritional supplements is vast and often confusing. Multivitamins claim to boost overall health, and immunity products boast protection against the common cold. While each person’s dietary habits and vitamin levels are different, breaking down the basics and talking to your primary care provider can help you decide when it is and isn’t worth adding supplements to your daily routine.
Myth: Taking supplements like vitamin C and zinc will prevent sickness
While they are important nutrients, taking vitamin C and zinc supplements probably won’t significantly boost your immunity. A cup of strawberries and a handful of cashews contain all the vitamin C and zinc you need in a day, which means most people who eat a balanced diet already get all the vitamin C and zinc they need.
Yes, these vitamins can help your immune system fight off sicknesses like the common cold and the flu, but your body better absorbs and uses the nutrients when you get them through food rather than supplements. Stave off sicknesses by maintaining a healthy diet in addition to reducing stress levels, getting good quality sleep, and washing your hands often.
Fact: Some supplements like vitamin B12 and folic acid can be helpful in certain situations
Since a balanced diet usually gives you all the vitamins you need, people with dietary restrictions may benefit from taking supplements. For example, a vegan diet may cause a deficiency in vitamin B12, which is found in animal meat, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish. While you can eat food like tempeh and chia seeds to get some vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, it can be difficult to regularly eat the necessary amount. Supplements may help bridge that gap.
Pregnant people should take prenatal vitamins, mainly folic acid and iron. Your body will need more of these vitamins to support the development of a placenta and fetus. Many prenatal vitamins will also include vitamins like calcium and vitamin D for similar reasons. Your health care provider can help you decide which vitamins should be included in your prenatal supplements.
Myth: All supplements are harmless
While most multivitamins are generally harmless, some vitamins can become harmful when taken in a megadose. Vitamin toxicity is most dangerous with fat-soluble vitamins (like vitamin D) because the excess amount stays stored in your body. This buildup can lead to kidney damage. This is less of a concern with water-soluble vitamins (like vitamin C and zinc), but an excess can still cause uncomfortable symptoms like nausea and stomach aches.
Many supplements can become harmful, even in small amounts, if they interact with certain medications. For example, zinc may interfere with the ability of some antibiotics to fight bacteria.
Always talk to your primary care provider before introducing a supplement into your routine, especially if you are on any type of medication. They can also guide you by analyzing your bloodwork for vitamin deficiencies. AmeriHealth members can log in at amerihealth.com and use our Provider Finder to locate an in-network doctor.