|Answers to Questions About Vitamins & Minerals
If you've never taken supplements -- or if you take them now and want to make sure you're
getting maximum benefits this page will help answer some commonly asked questions.
Additionally, it will provide you with basic information on selecting the appropriate
supplement to meet your needs and explain how to read a supplement label.
Now that I've decided to take a vitamin supplement, how
do I know which ones I need?
When choosing a supplement, it is important to consider your age, individual lifestyle and
dietary habits. With some basic knowledge about vitamins and minerals, you can develop
your own nutritional profile which will help you assess your needs. In developing your
profile, ask yourself these questions:
How well do I eat? Do l select foods high in vitamins and minerals? Do I eat at least five
servings of fruits and vegetables each day? Am I dieting or watching my calorie and fat
intake? Do I smoke? Am I over 50 years old? Am I taking medication(s) on a regular basis?
Am I pregnant or trying to become pregnant? Are there other health circumstances that may
affect my nutrient needs?
To start, you may want to select a multivitamin and mineral supplement. If you're a woman
of childbearing age, be sure your multivitamin includes folic acid to reduce the risk of
having a baby with a neural tube birth defect.
Women also need extra calcium and iron since these nutrients often fall short in the diet.
You may also want to include a daily antioxidant supplement containing vitamins C and E
and beta carotene, which are marketed individually as well as in combined formulas
How much of each nutrient is recommended?
Most vitamin supplement labels indicate the quantity of each nutrient and the percent of
the government's recommended daily intake contained in the product. This recommended
amount is based on the National Academy of Sciences Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).
For some nutrients, public health authorities and scientists recommend levels above the
RDA. These include 400 mcg of folic acid for women of childbearing age to help reduce the
risk of neural tube birth defects and daily calcium of no less than 1,000 mg for teens and
most adults, and 1,500 mg for post menopausal women to help reduce the risk of developing
osteoporosis. Many scientists who have studied the role of antioxidant vitamins believe
that the following levels are safe and may provide a protective effect: 6-15 mg beta
carotene, 250-500 mg vitamin C, and 100-400 IU of vitamin E.
How should I store my supplements?
You should store your supplements in a cool, dry place that is away from direct heat and
light. Keep supplements, especially those containing iron which can be dangerous at
excessive levels out of children's reach and close the cap tightly.
Why is the expiration date important?
The manufacturer provides an expiration date on the label as a guide to consumers to
ensure full potency through a given period.
When is the best time of the day to take supplements?
lt doesn't matter what time of day you take your supplements. Taking them at the same time
every day helps you to establish a routine. For many people, taking their supplements at
mealtime proves to be convenient. It is also wise to consume supplements at mealtime
rather than on an empty stomach, since they function in combination with nutrients in
food. Supplements should also be taken with a full glass of liquid for the best
How safe is it to consume vitamins and minerals and who
regulates these products?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has full authority to assure the safety of
nutritional supplements and to enforce the accuracy and truthfulness of label statements.
Decades of use by millions of people demonstrates that supplements have an excellent
safety record. Although most vitamins have a wide range of safety, misuse or overuse
should be avoided.
Some nutrients can be toxic at high levels, such as vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B-6,
niacin, and iron. The recommended levels on supplement labels should be followed, and you
should be aware of your total intake if you consume more than one product.
Can I be assured of the quality of supplements?
Manufacturers have internal quality standards and follow good manufacturing practices. In
addition USP, which stands for the United States Pharmacopeia, establishes standards for
strength, quality, purity, packaging, labeling and storage of nutritional supplements. USP
also publishes good manufacturing guidelines for supplement makers to follow.
Can taking medications affect my nutrient needs?
Many over-the-counter and prescription drugs, such as certain diuretics and
anticoagulants, can interfere with the absorption and metabolism of vitamins and minerals,
thereby reducing the level of nutrients available to your body. You may need to increase
your intake of vitamins and minerals to make up for this loss. Check with your physician
or pharmacist to obtain information on any potential drug-nutrient interactions prior to
Can good nutritional status lower health care costs?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates substantial health care cost
savings from health promotion and disease prevention, including better dietary habits. It
has been estimated that an average annual savings of 1.5-2.0 billion dollars could result
from just 20 percent fewer hip fractures which could be reduced by increasing calcium and
vitamin D intake, even in post menopausal women.
Results of an economic analysis showed that if antioxidants could reduce the risk of
certain diseases, as some studies indicate, consumption of optimal levels could save 8.7
billion dollars a year. This savings would come from reduced hospitalizations resulting
from five major diseases: cardiovascular disease, cataracts, and breast, lung, and stomach
What if I have questions about what to buy?
Your pharmacist or other appropriate health professional is a good information resource
and can assist you in making your selection.
Scientific evidence supporting the role of vitamins and minerals in promoting good health
and reducing the risk of disease is rapidly mounting. Making healthy dietary choices,
including the appropriate use of nutritional supplements, should be part of a healthy