Sources of Vitamins: Supplements vs Food – Often people take vitamin supplements without knowing their benefits. Reasons for taking vitamin supplements is based on feeling “healthier” after taking vitamin supplements or on the grounds that nutritional intake is more fulfilled so that disease can be avoided. Actually, do you need to take vitamin supplements? Is it true that vitamin supplements can prevent disease? To answer this, it is better if we first identify what vitamins are.

Vitamins are essential nutrients that your body needs in small amounts to function properly (NHS, 2019). Naturally contained in foods, such as vitamin A in carrots and spinach, vitamin B12 in beef, poultry, and fish, vitamin E in nuts, and other vitamins.

Sources of Vitamins: Supplements vs Food – In fact, if we eat a nutritionally balanced diet and lead a healthy lifestyle then we will not need vitamin supplements. That’s because the vitamins we need can be obtained from the food we consume.

Research has found that the vitamins contained in food are better than those in supplements because food is a source of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (plant chemicals) that work together, whereas supplements tend to work alone.

Research has also found that some vitamins from food can have a different effect on the body than vitamins from supplements because vitamins from food are also affected by the content of other foods.

However, there are certain conditions where a person requires vitamin intake from supplements. Dietary supplements are products that are taken by mouth and usually contain one or more food ingredients (such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, and enzymes) (NCI, not dated). People who need to take vitamin supplements include the following:

  • People who are prone to osteoporosis or who are rarely exposed to sunlight need additional vitamin D intake from supplements. Postmenopausal women or older men may want to consider taking vitamin D supplements. Likewise, people who are rarely exposed to sunlight. Daily intake of vitamin D supplements of 10 micrograms can help them meet their vitamin D needs that are difficult to meet if you only rely on food consumption.
  • Children 6 months to 5 years of age need to take a daily supplement containing vitamins A, C and D to support optimal growth and development.
  • People with certain medical conditions that can lead to a deficiency in vitamin intake need vitamin supplements. People with an imbalanced nutritional intake (e.g. people on a low calorie diet or vegan and vegetarian), people with digestive diseases that reduce the absorption of vitamins in the diet (such as chronic diarrhoea, Chron’s disease, celiac disease, etc.), also people who having dialysis due to kidney failure may require certain vitamin supplements.

However, excess intake of supplements can cause health problems, especially if you don’t really need them. For healthy adults, taking vitamin supplements should be close to recommended daily limits.

Keep in mind that vitamins are nutrients that the body needs in small amounts, so if we eat a balanced nutritious diet and lead a healthy lifestyle, vitamins should be fulfilled from the food we consume every day. Here are some of the effects of consuming excess vitamin supplements:

  • High doses of vitamin A can cause birth defects, as well as disorders of the central nervous system, liver, bones, and skin.
  • Taking high amounts of vitamin B6 for one year or more has been linked to nerve damage that can interfere with body movement (symptoms often disappear after the supplement is stopped).
  • Doses of vitamin C above one gram can cause diarrhea.
  • Excess vitamin D can increase the risk of kidney stones.
  • Vitamin E in high doses can cause bleeding in the brain that results in a stroke.
  • Vitamin K can interfere with the anti-clotting effect of blood.

So, should you take vitamin supplements? To find out you have to ask yourself. Have you been eating a balanced nutritious diet? Are you living a healthy lifestyle? Or do you belong to people with special conditions who need vitamin supplements?

Follow the recommendations of your doctor and nutritionist if you have certain medical conditions that require taking vitamin supplements. In addition, improve your diet and lifestyle.

Contributor: Nadia Rana Nabila 4th semester student of Bachelor of Nutrition, FKM UI

Harvard Medical School. Best source of vitamins? Your plate, not your medicine cabinet. Harvard Health Publishing. Diakses 19 April, 2020.
Harvard Medical School. Do you need a daily supplement?. Harvard Health Publishing. Dipublikasikan September, 2018. Diakses 19 April, 2020.
Harvard Medical School. The benefits of vitamin supplements. Harvard Health Publishing. Dipublikasikan Agustus, 2015. Diakses 19 April, 2020.
National Cancer Institute. NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms. National Cancer Institute. Diakses 19 April, 2020.
NHS. Do I need vitamin supplements?. NHS. Dipublikasikan 22 November, 2019. Diakses 19 April, 2020.
Victoria State Government. Vitamin and mineral supplements. Better Health Channel. Diakses 19 April, 2020.

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