What is a vitamin and mineral supplement?
mineral supplement provides a variety of nutrients
that are also found in food. These supplements are often called multivitamins.
They come in the form of pills, chewable tablets, powders, and liquids.
A standard multivitamin usually contains:
- Water-soluble vitamins. These vitamins pass
in and out of the body easily. Most do not build up in the body's cells.
Water-soluble vitamins include vitamin C and the B vitamins: thiamine,
riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, biotin,
folic acid, and
- Fat-soluble vitamins. These vitamins
are stored in the body's cells and do not pass out of the body as easily as
water-soluble vitamins do. Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and
- Minerals. These include
calcium, copper, iron,
potassium, selenium, and zinc.
Some multivitamins also contain other ingredients that
aren't vitamins or minerals. These include substances such as the
antioxidants lutein and lycopene.
Why take a supplement?
The best way to get the
vitamins and minerals you need is by eating a wide variety of healthy foods. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend fruits, vegetables, whole grains, milk and milk products, and seafood as part of a nutritious food plan. A
supplement can't make up for unhealthy eating habits. But sometimes even people
who have healthy eating habits find it hard to get all the fruits, vegetables,
and other healthy foods they need. A supplement can help fill in the
Certain people are more likely to need a supplement. They
- People who eat a calorie-restricted diet, which does not provide enough vitamins and minerals.
- Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
- People who are sick, injured, or recovering from surgery.
- Infants, especially to be sure they are getting adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D.
- People who can't or don't eat a variety of foods, such as
people who have
food allergies or people who eat a vegetarian diet.
What about supplements that are labeled for certain people (such as women or seniors)?
Many supplements are advertised as being
specially designed for men or for women or for certain age groups. A standard
multivitamin is okay for most people who take a supplement. But some people prefer
to take a supplement that is made for their gender or age group.
Types of specialized supplements include:
- Women's formulas. Women's supplements have
extra iron. This is because women who are still having periods need more iron
than men do. But after
menopause, women's iron needs are the same as men's.
Some women's formulas also contain extra calcium, since women are more likely
than men to get
- Men's formulas. These are
lower in iron, because men need less iron than women.
formulas. These are made for older adults and usually have less iron and
vitamin K and more vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
- Prenatal formulas.
These are made for women who are pregnant, are planning to get pregnant, or are
breast-feeding. The supplements have extra folic acid and iron. Folic acid is
especially important because it can help prevent certain birth defects,
neural tube defects. Sometimes these supplements also
have more calcium.
What should you look for when you pick a supplement?
- Choose one that provides a variety of
vitamins and minerals (a multivitamin) rather than a supplement that provides
only a single vitamin or mineral (unless your doctor has recommended that you
take an individual vitamin or mineral).
- Pick one that, along with the foods you eat, provides the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for each vitamin and mineral.
Supplements that provide a lot more than the RDA can cause
health problems. This is especially important for minerals and the fat-soluble
vitamins A, D, E, and K. These are stored more easily in the body, and they can
build up to dangerous levels.
- Check the expiration date. Do not buy
supplements that have expired or that will expire before you can finish the
- If the supplement has the United States
Pharmacopeia (USP) seal, the supplement has been tested and contains the amounts of vitamins and minerals that are listed
on the label.
- Check the label for other ingredients. Some
supplements may contain food ingredients, such as wheat, corn, eggs, or
gelatin. If you have a food allergy or are sensitive to these foods, look for
supplements that don't have those ingredients.
What should you watch out for?
When you think
about buying a dietary supplement, be sure to check the claims that the manufacturers
make. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary
supplements in the same way that it regulates medicines. This means that
supplements can be sold without research on how well, or even if, they work.
Here are some things to consider:
- A generic brand (or store brand) often works
just as well as a name brand supplement. Look for generic brands that contain
the same amount of vitamins and minerals as the name brand.
man-made (synthetic) vitamins are as good as natural vitamins.
supplement has been proved to cure diseases such as cancer,
heart disease, or digestive problems. If it sounds too
good to be true, it probably is. Be cautious of supplements that promise quick
and dramatic results.
Organization National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements (U.S.) http://dietary-supplements.info.nih.gov
- Dietary Supplements (Herbal Medicines and Natural Products)
- Healthy Eating
Other Works Consulted
American Dietetic Association (ADA) (2009). Position of the American Dietetic Association: Nutrient supplementation. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109(12): 2074–2085. Available online: http://www.eatright.org/WorkArea/linkit.aspx?LinkIdentifier=id&ItemID=8445.
Gallagher ML (2012). Intake: The nutrients and their metabolism. In LK Mahan et al., eds., Krause's Food and the Nutrition Care Process, 13th ed., pp. 32–128. St. Louis: Saunders.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2008). FDA 101: Dietary Supplements. Available online: http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm050803.htm.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2009). Fortify Your Knowledge About Vitamins. Available online: http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm118079.htm.