In any chemist or health food section you will find a phenomenal array of vitamin and dietary supplements. Many of these can be quite expensive. So, are they of any real benefit?
Since Victorian times, there has always been a ready market for ‘cure alls’. Research has shown that many of these dietary supplements are completely unnecessary for most people.
Doctors say that if you eat a balanced diet, you should have no need for vitamin supplements.
One of the few exceptions to this rule is Vitamin D, which may be advisable for people who — like we poor, beleaguered Irish — don’t see much sunshine through our long winters. Sunlight has been shown to be important for many aspects of our health: for our mental well being, regulating our body clocks and encouraging physical activity.
When the Sun’s rays hit our skin they help produce the ‘sunlight vitamin’, vitamin D, which is vital for building healthy bones.
Deficiencies in this vitamin have also been linked to such medical conditions as rickets, osteomalacia, heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and cancer.
For most fair-skinned adults, 15 minutes of the Sun directly on our face and arms two to three times a week is enough to get an adequate supply of vitamin D.
If you have darker skin more exposure time is needed. Between October and March the sunlight we are exposed to in Ireland is probably not strong enough for any vitamin D to be produced.
The HSE advises parents to give their infants five micrograms of vitamin D3 every day from birth until they reach a year old.
The British health authorities recommend that vitamin D be given until the age of five. Dietary sources of vitamin D — which include oily fish, eggs, and fortified cereals — are of course useful, but, like the Irish sun in winter, unlikely to provide adequate vitamin D, so ask your doctor to advise you as to the best vitamin D supplement for you.
Another group that may need a dietary supplement are women who may become pregnant. They are advised to take adequate amounts of folic acid on a daily basis.
Those aged over 50 are advised to consume adequate quantities of vitamin B12 every day, however, this can be taken through fortified foods, such as some breakfast cereals.
However, some people may need dietary supplements, under medical advice. There are, of course, other conditions which will require people to take dietary supplements but, for most of us, they are unnecessary once we eat a balanced diet.
No matter what supplement you take, you should always consult your doctor first.