According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately half of adults in the U.S. take at least one daily dietary supplement – the most popular being a multivitamin.
This translates into about $28 billion per year spent on vitamins, supplements, and minerals.
It is important to understand the difference between these dietary add-ons.
Vitamins are naturally occurring, organic nutrients (coming from plants and animals) and include vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K.
Minerals are inorganic compounds (coming from natural processes) and include calcium, magnesium, iron, and sodium.
“Supplement” is a catch-all term, which includes vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, etc.
Another important distinction between vitamins and minerals is that vitamins are either fat or water soluble, whereas minerals are not soluble.
Fat soluble vitamins, as their name suggests, can be stored in fat and can be dangerous in large doses.
In excess, water soluble vitamins can be excreted in the urine and rarely pose danger when consumed in large amounts.
A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that taking a daily multivitamin can reduce the risk of cancer by 12 percent in men aged 50 and older and appears to have no dangerous side-effects; no benefit was seen for risk of prostate cancer.
The take home from this study is that a multivitamin regimen seems to be more beneficial than increasing daily intake of one vitamin.
As far as vitamin supplementation goes, few people in the U.S. are deficient in vitamin A.
The retinol form is found in eggs, liver, whole milk, dark green leafy vegetables and orange/yellow fruit and is more readily absorbed than the beta-carotene version. Most people get plenty of the B vitamins through their diet.
Evidence is mixed for whether vitamin C can help you avoid or reduce cold symptoms.
Vitamin D can be activated just with some sun exposure and is also found in fatty fish, eggs and fortified dairy products.