Where to Start with Vitamins & Supplements

Sponsored by: Tufts Medical Center

If you have a social media account on any platform, you likely have realized there are a lot of “armchair experts” out there promoting a myriad of vitamins and supplements and cure-alls to the public. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation around the internet about vitamins and supplements each person should take. Before starting to take a supplement or vitamin, you should plan to have a discussion with your doctor about what would be best for you.

Not sure where to start or how to ask the right questions? Manasa Mouli, MD, Primary Care Physician at Tufts Medical Center has 5 situations that might warrant a discussion with your doctor about adding a vitamin or supplement into your health care regimen.

I’m a vegetarian and/or vegan:  Vitamin B12.

A deficiency of Vitamin B12 can lead to anemia (low blood counts),  and neurologic problems such as muscle weakness, and difficulty walking. Vitamin B12 is found in many animal products, but not in plant-based foods. So, if you are vegetarian or vegan, you may be at risk for Vitamin B12 deficiency Some symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency anemia can be tiredness, lightheadedness, diarrhea, tingling and numbness.

I’m trying to conceive: Folic acid and iron.

Having adequate folic acid stores before you get pregnant can prepare your body for a healthy pregnancy. A deficiency of folic acid can increase the risk of neural tube defects in the baby. A neural tube defect is a defect in the development in the vertebrae, spinal cord or brain, like spina bifida and anencephaly. These defects typically develop before you know you’re pregnant, which is why it is important to supplement with folic acid as soon as you start trying to conceive.

Another thing to consider when trying to get pregnant is whether you are getting enough iron. Building up iron stores is important because it is one of the minerals your future baby will get from you while in-utero. You can ask your doctor to check your iron levels. While you may not need an actual iron supplement, you should make sure you are getting enough iron in your diet. Iron rich foods include leafy greens such as spinach, lean meats, salmon, eggs, lentils,  and chickpeas.

I’m tired, and can’t shake it – sleep doesn’t help much: Iron.

Iron deficiency can cause fatigue and anemia (low blood counts), due to your body not getting enough oxygen through your red blood cells. Your red blood cells carry oxygen via hemoglobin, a special protein in your cells. Iron is a key part of hemoglobin. If you feel that you are always tired, even when you get enough sleep, ask your doctor about whether you may be iron-deficient.

I live in New England: Vitamin D.

Sunlight exposure increases your body’s Vitamin D stores. But living in New England means long, cold winters with short periods of daylight. This means that you likely don’t get exposed to enough sunlight to have adequate Vitamin D in your body. Having enough Vitamin D boosts your energy levels, and makes your bones stronger and less likely to fracture.

Vitamin D is present in some foods like fatty fish, fish liver oils, and fortified dairy products, but unless you typically eat a diet that includes plenty of fatty fish and fish liver oils, it may be difficult to get enough Vitamin D through diet alone. Experts believe that most people may need 1000 IU (international units) of vitamin D per day for optimal health. A glass of milk has approximately 100 IU, which is only 1/10th of the amount of vitamin D you should be getting!  So, a vitamin D supplement might be a good option for many people.

I’m a generally healthy man or woman.

If you are a healthy adult who eats a well-balanced and varied diet, and who is not trying to get pregnant, not currently pregnant or lactating, you do not need to take a multivitamin, Multivitamins should be considered if you have a vitamin deficiency, drink alcohol in excessive amounts, or have had gastric bypass surgery, among other conditions.  The best way to determine if you should take a multivitamin is by discussing your lifestyle with your doctor.

Building a strong relationship with your doctor is critical to ensuring you’re living the healthiest life possible.  If you’re looking for a new primary care physician, Tufts Medical Center can help! Our primary care practices in Boston, Quincy, Framingham, Wellesley and Woburn have doctors taking new patients.

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