Vitamins and Minerals

What Are Vitamins and Minerals?

Vitamins and minerals are needed for all functions in the body. The body cannot make them so we must get them from food. Vitamins and minerals are needed in very small amounts. Each one works with several others to make the body function. Another way to get vitamins and minerals is by taking a dietary supplement.

What Are Supplements?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines them as products intended to supplement (or add) to the diet. They come in many forms. Some are pills, capsules, powders, gelcaps or liquids. Laws for safety are under the control of the FDA. Herbal extracts are another type of supplement. Vitamin/mineral supplements should not be used as a short cut to good nutrition. Good nutrition means more than just getting enough vitamins and minerals. Protein, carbohydrates, fats and water are also needed. There are many good things in foods not found in pills. The best way to get a good diet is to eat a variety of healthy foods.

Why Take a Supplement?

Doctors often prescribe supplements. There are many situations and conditions when people need extra vitamins and minerals such as:

  • Doctors prescribe them for infants.
  • Pregnant women and nursing mothers also need them.
  • People who cannot eat regular foods need them, too.
  • Sick people who take certain medicines.

Anyone can buy and use vitamins and minerals. You do not need a prescription. But there are both positives and negatives to taking vitamins and minerals on your own. Too much of some vitamins or minerals can be toxic. Only a certain amount is needed for good health. Ten times more is not ten times better.

People take supplements on their own for many different reasons. Some reasons are backed by medical research. Some are not. What are some reasons?

  • To delay aging
  • For more pep and energy
  • To make up for not eating right
  • To protect against disease
  • To protect against unhealthy habits—like smoking

Cons, Quacks, and Frauds

Be on the lookout for false claims. There are products that do not do what they claim. Avoid products that say they treat, cure or prevent a disease. Be leery of words like "miracle cure," "detoxify," "energize," and "new discovery." Many ads contain false or misleading information.

The FDA says, "Before starting a dietary supplement, it is wise to get advice. Doctors, pharmacists, dietitians and nutritionists can provide helpful information." Do not rely on information from sales people. They only want to sell the product.

Do the Right Thing

Mixing some supplements and medicine can be unsafe. Levels of certain drugs may be increased to dangerous levels in your blood. If you are on medication, talk to your doctor first.

Taking a multivitamin mineral supplement (in safe amounts) may be right for you. But why take something you do not need? Why spend money on something that does not work? Most people take supplements to improve their health. Make sure your supplement is helpful.

Prepared by: Drusilla Banks, Nutrition and Wellness Educator. Chicago Extension Center.

New Features | Home Care | Wellness | Consumer Economics | Foods & Nutrition