There are countless vitamin and supplement cocktails on the market and even more claims bandied about. It is difficult to know which ones to believe and which ones to ignore. Today I am going to talk through the evidence for and against some of the most common vitamins and supplements. If you have questions about supplements that I don’t address here, let me know and I will circle back to them for a future post.
The most important thing to note about vitamins and supplements is that quality matters. Buying a reputable brand of vitamin can have a significant impact on the results you see and feel. Vitamins are regulated as foods and as such claims made about their efficacy are not evaluated by the FDA–buyer beware.
This is the one and only multivitamin with real data to back up its use. Prenatal vitamins contain extra folate that aids in neural tube development. They often have added iron to ward off anemia that is common in pregnant women. Nearly as important are some of the things prenatal vitamins don’t have. High dose vitamin A is unsafe in pregnancy and prenatal vitamins are formulated to take this into account. My favorite prenatal is by Ritual. It contains just what pregnancy and nursing women need without a lot of extras in two daily capsules.
Women should start taking prenatals a few months before trying to conceive. Much of their benefit is in preventing neural tube defects and the neural tube forms before many women know they are pregnant.
This is one of the most studied vitamins around these days. Scientists have looked to vitamin D to solve all types of problems. Many of those claims didn’t pan out, but a few have. Vitamin D is important for the absorption of calcium from your gut into your blood. It helps in bone building in other ways too. There is some evidence that vitamin D deficiency is associated with depression, more severe PMS and seasonal depression in women. Recent studies suggest vitamin D deficiency is associated with risk for contracting COVID-19. For all these reasons, it makes sense to be sure your vitamin D levels are adequate and take a supplement to increase vitamin D levels if they aren’t.
Iron deficiency can cause fatigue and hair loss and eventually low blood counts. As a result, it is important to check iron levels if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Pregnant women often need iron supplements because the body needs to church out an additional 4 pounds of blood over the course of pregnancy.
But not everyone needs iron. Many of us get adequate amounts from our diet. Iron supplements can cause side effects like stomach upset and constipation. And it is possible to overdose on iron supplements which can be harmful to the liver. For all these reasons it is best to confirm that you are deficient in iron before starting a supplement.
B12 is actually a neurotransmitter. If levels get low enough symptoms can include numbness and tingling. However, long before levels dip that low, B12 deficiency can cause fatigue, hair loss and anemia. Most of us feel best if our B12 levels are above 500 ng/mL.
Tumeric has long been touted for its anti-inflammatory properties. But in recent years it has seen a huge rise in popularity. The bright yellow-orange spice is sold in capsules and teas, coffees and facemasks (of the spa variety). While lab studies support tumeric’s anti-inflammatory powers, eating turmeric may not help us much. We can’t absorb much of it from our gut. So the capsules and coffees and teas are probably not so beneficial–at least as they are currently formulated. Turmeric can be absorbed through the skin, so applying it topically may be useful as long as you don’t mind the color.
There are so many other vitamins and supplements to discuss, there will definitely be future posts like this one. Let me know which vitamins and supplements you have questions about and I will be sure to include them.