Vitamins, minerals, herbals: What do you really need?

Supplements are in the news everywhere you turn: Try this vitamin, it’ll help you see better. Take this mineral because it will improve your bone density. This herbal will make you feel less tired. So, how do you know if you need to take any of these? How is one different from the other?

supplements 320Definition

Supplements is the term for a broad category of things that your body needs in order to be healthy. The main ones are vitamins, minerals, herbals/botanicals, amino acids and enzymes. Vitamins are groups of organic compounds that are essential for normal growth and nutrition and are required in small quantities in your diet because they can’t be made by your body. They are divided into two categories—fat-soluble and water-soluble. This means that the fat-soluble are stored in fat cells and need fat to be absorbed; whereas, water-soluble are absorbs each day in the amount that the body needs and the extra is gotten rid of (you have to take in these every day in order to get enough). Minerals are similar to vitamins in that your body does not make them and your body needs them to be healthy. This is divided into two categories as well—macrominerals and trace minerals. You need larger amount of macrominerals than you do of trace minerals. Botanicals are plants or parts of plants that you use to try to stay healthy or to treat conditions or illnesses. Herbals are a type of botanical and usually contain one or more herbs. Amino Acids are simple organic compounds that proteins are made of and a large portion of our cells, especially muscle and tissue. They are essential for every metabolic process that your body performs. Enzymes are substance that your body produces in order to speed up biochemical reactions. Each one is designed to do a specific task and are vital for life. They play a significant role in digestion and metabolism. Please see Fast Facts for a list of all the supplements, their functions and the best sources to find them.

Who needs supplements?

Fast Facts SupplementsThere are a variety of ways to ensure that you get the right nutrients that you need. The most important is eating foods and not having to take pills, liquids or powders to get them. The reasoning for this is simple in that that food has more than one nutrient your body needs in it. Food contains a variety of micronutrients that your body needs, natural fiber that prevents some disease (heart disease, Diabetes and constipation) and has other substances that are good for your health (ex. phytochemicals are found in fruits and vegetables that help fight against cancer, hypertension, Diabetes and heart disease or antioxidants that slow down oxidation, which is a natural process that leads to cell and tissue damage). So, the reason for taking supplements is if you aren’t taking in enough of the essential nutrients in through your diet, then you might want to consider taking supplements to provide your body with what it is missing. Some special populations that might need supplements because of natural body changes include pregnant women, adults over 50 years of age, vegan/vegetarians, women who have heavy menstrual cycles, people with medical conditions that affect how the body absorbs nutrients or people who have had surgery on the digestive tract causing it to not be able to digest nutrients properly. All of these can affect how your body absorbs nutrients from your food intake.

How do you choose which supplements to take?

There are several things to consider when taking supplements. The main thing to remember is to talk to your doctor before taking any of them. This is especially important if you take prescription medications or other supplements already because sometimes the new supplements can have interactions with the existing that could be harmful to your body. Always read the label to see a list of ingredients, serving size and amount of nutrient per serving. Avoid megadoses of nutrients—you can do this by choosing a multivitamin that has 100% of your Daily Value (DV) of all the vitamins and minerals that you need rather than one vitamin that has more of one kind of nutrient than another. Be sure to check the expiration date (if it doesn’t have one, don’t buy it and if it is expired, throw it away). Watch the foods you eat because more and more are being fortified with vitamins and minerals making it possible to take too much of a nutrient without realizing it. Before taking any dietary supplement, it is a good idea to ask yourself these questions: What are potential health benefits of this dietary supplement? Are any of its potential benefits specifically for me? Are there any safety risks? What is the proper dose to take? How, when, and for how long should you take it? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, don’t take a supplement without talk to your health care provider first. Essential nutrients are vital for your wellbeing and with taking the time to be informed, you will be able to have a healthier body

If you have any questions about supplements, please talk to your doctor. For more information about supplements, please visit the FDA’s page about Dietary Supplements at