Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Do You Need Vitamins?

If you fall into any of these categories, talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian about supplements you may require.

Are you pregnant or breastfeeding?
It is no surprise that your nutrient needs increase during pregnancy as your body nourishes both you and your unborn baby, and again if you breastfeed. It is recommended that all women of childbearing age take a supplement that contains folic acid, preferably months prior to pregnancy and throughout early pregnancy. Adequate folic acid levels have been found to prevent a large percentage of neural tube birth defects. Other vitamin requirements increase as well, and most physicians prescribe a daily multivitamin for the duration of pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Do you drink a lot of alcohol?
Excess alcohol intake alters the body’s absorption, metabolism and secretion of a number of vitamins and minerals, most notably the B vitamins. To add insult to injury, most alcoholics have poor diets, replacing many of their calories with alcohol, placing them at further risk for deficiency.

Do you smoke?
Smoking reduces vitamin C levels and increases the production of free radicals, those pesky substances that tear around our bodies, damaging cells. Oxidation reactions caused by free radicals are thought to play a primary role in the development of cancer and heart disease.

Do you diet often?
People on frequent low calorie diets are at risk for nutrient deficiencies. Taking in less than 1200 calories a day makes it difficult to meet your nutrient needs through diet alone. In addition, people who cut certain food groups out of their diet are at risk for nutrient deficiencies and should talk to a dietician about supplements.

Are you a vegetarian?
Vegetarians are at high risk for vitamin B12 deficiency since this nutrient is found only in animal foods such as meat, milk, and eggs. Strict vegetarians may also fail to get adequate levels of calcium, zinc, and iron from their diet.

Are you lactose-intolerant?
If you can’t stomach dairy products, you are at risk for osteoporosis. Vitamin D and calcium supplements are generally recommended.

Do you take certain drugs?
A number of common drugs or medications affect vitamin and mineral needs. For instance, antibiotics, estrogen-containing birth control pills, certain cholesterol-lowering drugs, and regular use of aspirin can interfere or deplete the body of a number of vitamins and minerals.

Are you over age 50?
Elderly people often require supplements because of poor appetite and decreased nutrient absorption with increasing age. In addition, older folks generally take more prescription medications, many of which can interfere with the bodies use or absorption of certain nutrients.

Are you an athlete?
Athletes and people who exercise strenuously often require additional nutrients. The physical stress that training puts on the body increases vitamin and mineral requirements, as does increased excretion of many nutrients through perspiration.

Are you a woman?
Women often need additional calcium and vitamin D to increase bone mass and prevent osteoporosis. This is especially true after menopause when the protective effects of estrogen are lost. Women with very heavy menstrual periods may need extra iron and a multivitamin is sometimes recommended for women who take oral contraceptives because of altered metabolism of some nutrients.

Hand in hand with a healthy diet, supplements can be a safe and effective way in which to meet your body’s nutritional needs and increase your preventive efforts against degenerative diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

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