Q: Do I need vitamin supplements?

A: Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that your body needs in small amounts to work properly. Vitamins affect every part of your body, including:

  • The way your hair, nails and muscles develop and grow,
  • Your sight,
  • The way you digest food, and l Your heart and nervous system.

If you eat a balanced diet that includes food from all the major groups, there should be no need to take vitamin supplements. Supplements should only be used as a top-up if it is not possible to eat a healthy balanced diet - they aren't a substitute for healthy eating!

Q: Which supplements should you consider taking?

A: The amount of vitamins you need depends on your age, health and lifestyle.

  • Women who are pregnant are advised to take 400 micrograms of folic acid per day up to the twelfth week of pregnancy. It is best to avoid taking any vitamin A supplements during pregnancy, as this may damage the baby’s development.
  • Children between the age of 6 months and 5 years may need vitamins A, C and D. Supplements may not be needed if your child is a good eater and has a varied diet.
  • Individuals whose bodies are continuously covered due to their cultural dress are at potential risk of rickets caused by a lack of vitamin D that we get from sunlight.

The Effects of Vitamin Deficiency

If your levels of a particular vitamin become diminished it may lead to low-grade symptoms such as fatigue, skin and hair problems and chronic infection. Only prolonged deficiencies lead to the following problems:

  • Eyes – Lack of vitamin A causes night blindness
  • Gums – Lack of vitamin C causes bleeding gums and can lead to scurvy
  • Muscles – Lack of vitamin E can cause fatigue and problems with reflexes
  • Bones – Lack of vitamin D causes osteoporosis (bone thinning) and rickets (skeletal deformities)
  • Toes and fingers – Tingling can be due to a lack of vitamin B12 People on special diets Vegetarians and vegans can miss out on vitamins D, B12, calcium, iron and zinc, which are mainly found in meat and dairy products.

You don't need to take supplements if you eat a balanced diet. Iron and zinc are found in eggs, whole-grain cereals, pulses, green leafy vegetables and fortified breakfast cereals.

For calcium, vitamins B2 and B12, try to eat two servings of low-fat dairy products a day. If you don't eat dairy products, try soya milk, fortified orange juice, dark leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, tahini, tofu, or almonds.

As animal products provide the best source of vitamins B2 and B12, vegans who avoid animal products altogether may benefit from taking supplements.

If you would like to discuss your nutritional needs, speak to the pharmacists at Ilkley Moor Pharmacy – open seven days a week, and until 11pm Monday to Saturday.

Ashley Cohen, Ilkley Moor Pharmacy