Vitamin A for healthy skin, vitamin B for energy, vitamin C to support the immune system – there’s an entire alphabet of nutritional supplements available that help to maintain our healthiest selves.
Although a healthy, well-balanced diet is always the best approach where possible, a lot of people rely on taking additional vitamins and supplements. So, why do we take them, and what happens if we stop?
Why take vitamins and supplements?
While there’s research to suggest that taking additional vitamins and supplements has little to no effect on your body’s functioning, some findings show that select vitamin supplements can benefit our diet.
According to Dr Daniel Fenton, from London Doctors Clinic, there are three groups of people that should most consider taking vitamin supplements: those that are truly deficient, vegans and vegetarians (who may find it difficult to obtain the required amount of nutrients from their diet alone) and people that maintain a healthy diet but may need supplements for specific issues – thin hair, for instance. For most people, additions of vitamin D, B12 and iron to their diet will be the most beneficial, Dr Fenton believes.
Most vitamin D comes from exposure to sunlight, while smaller amounts can come from dietary sources, but it’s vital for helping us absorb the calcium we need to maintain strong bones, for instance. This is why vitamin D supplements are recommended for all UK adults, as during autumn and winter months there isn’t enough sunlight for adequate vitamin D, and research has found that taking vitamin D supplements can have health benefits.
A study led by scientists at Queen Mary University in London found that taking a daily vitamin D supplement could spare 3.25 million a year from cold or flu symptoms.
Vitamin B12 is another one which, if taken as a supplement, could help our daily functioning. Found in meat, eggs and dairy, vitamin B12 plays a role in maintaining our nervous system and releasing energy – but the increasing number of vegans and vegetarians among us may find it difficult to find enough of it in dietary sources alone.
Dr Fenton advises vegans and vegetarians to get a blood test to make sure they are eating all of the vitamins and minerals they need, because “it takes a lot of fruit and veg to provide the vitamins and minerals from just one small piece of meat”.
Similarly, calcium and omega-3 could be lacking in some people’s diets and could be sustained with supplements. While calcium is important for healthy bones and teeth, omega-3 is linked to better heart and brain functioning. So, neither should be forgotten about.
What happens when we stop taking them?
Illness, exhaustion and a weakened immune system can all be possible side-effects of forgetting to take your supplements – particularly if your body is used to the additional vitamin intake. Likewise, shortfalls in nutrients can make you more vulnerable to various diseases and even depression, in the longer term.
According to Dr Fenton, feelings of fatigue and tiredness are often a “precursor to depression”, so it’s important that people maintain their energy levels.
Feeling weak, tired, hungry and foggy from vitamin withdrawal can cause you to want to avoid social activities, stop exercising, or even develop sleep problems.
“Topping up on vitamins such as iron, B12, vitamin D and folic acid do make people feel better, especially if they are suffering with conditions like anaemia, but vitamins and minerals can largely be maintained by a healthy, balanced diet, which should be supported by regular exercise,” Dr Fenton advises.
So, remember to take your vitamins – whether they come in food or supplement form.