So after talking about a healthy diet and the things that affect the nutrient uptake do we need a vitamin and mineral supplement.? In theory we should get all our nutrients (vitamins and minerals) from our diet. In practice that may not be as easy as it sounds - even if you eat a relatively healthy diet.
The level of nutrients in the food we finish up eating is dependant on a variety of things, some already mentioned in previous sections. Organic or non-organic foods are different in nutrient quality. The state of the soil food is grown in, transportation, storage, pest control, food processing, cooking, etc. all affect the vitamin and mineral levels in our food.
Modern farming methods relying on fertilisers to produce more crops more often from the same soil mean minerals are depleted, so though a vegetable may grow and look good it may well be missing important nutrients such as selenium or boron. Where are we going to get them from if not supplements. Selenium like all nutrients has its role to play in our health. In the case of selenium, it is needed to help prevent cancer and heart disease.
Foods are often picked before they are ripe so are not fully developed in nutrient value. Transport and storage further reduces the amount and quality of vitamins and minerals. So again how do we counter this - take a supplement or try to eat better quality food and more of it.
Then cooking adds to the loss of vitamins and minerals, especially boiling. The vitamins in greens or carrots etc finish up being thrown away with the water they were cooked in. (You could use the water for soup stock of course!)
That is not the end of it. Stress affects the absorption of nutrients into our body. Just at a time when we perhaps need more nutrients. It is not just stress. Old age affects nutrient absorption as well. As the body's metabolism slows and changes with age nutrient absorption is affected. And vitamins and minerals are particularly important as we age.
Then everyday things like coffee, alcohol, sugar, and smoking all affect absorption of vitamins and minerals. Other outside things such as traffic fumes, prescription and over the counter medicines all add to the problems. All affect nutrient absorption or metabolism.
This is further complicated by interactions between vitamins and minerals. Lack of one vitamin can affect absorption of another. You can't just say 'oh that's alright it doesn't matter if I miss one or two nutrients, there are plenty more.' For example magnesium as well as having its own tasks such as helping with healthy bones and teeth and muscles and working on relaxing muscles including the heart muscles, also plays a part in calcium uptake. Vitamin C also helps calcium absorption.
All the other nutrients also have interactive requirements. Another reason for having a wide and varied diet. So just having a reasonable diet may not be enough as if only one or two nutrients are missing they may be important and other processes can be affected.
There are strong arguments then for a good quality multi-vitamin to be taken daily. Equally the arguments for using high doses of single vitamin supplements in certain circumstances may be wrong as this could also upset the balance of vitamins. Just because you read that a high dose of something is beneficial and the latest health fad don't be tempted to follow the trend. At least consult a qualified nutrition expert or doctor as you should always do if considering a single supplement or herb for medicinal purposes.
You may think well I am healthy, eat well, etc, so why worry. But whatever the nutrients you take the body uses what it gets to first maintain the status quo and do the immediate work necessary to maintain every day body functions. Made harder if you are not living the healthiest of lives. Other long term requirements that the nutrients should be tackling come second. This is done at the expense of old age. Many illnesses of aging, from cancer to heart disease are linked to vitamin and mineral deficiency. Often during our younger years. A recent study has shown that folic acid shortage is linked to alzheimers and dementia. Shortages of other vitamins are linked to diseases of old age.
Low magnesium is linked to bowel cancer and also high blood pressure. Calcium deficiency is not only involved in bone disease, but also diabetes and lack of Vitamin D is associated with certain cancers including breast cancer and prostate cancer.
All this uncertainty may lead us to the conclusion that a good quality multivitamin is the answer and I would agree with that, especially at vunerable times - the young growing up, women during pregnancy, and for the elderly. Good quality multivitamins are available to match your needs according to age. Sensible, because different groups have different nutrient requirements.
I would go slightly further and recommend taking Omega 3 fish oil as well. We eat less oily fish and what omega 3 we get is partly destroyed by cooking and food processing. Omega 3 oil is essential for the heart and for brain function. It is also felt important enough for the government's health advisers to consider recommending that omega 3 fish oils be given to people with heart disease.
There are other occasions when a single supplement may be necessary but as I said if you feel that is necessary consult your nutrition therapist for proper advice. The exception I would say are probiotics (seen everywhere in bio yoghurts and drinks.) Some people take probiotics on a daily basis, but they are certainly needed after a course of antibiotics. The antibiotics kill off healthy gut flora as well as the infection being treated. Probiotics are also a good remedy to help with a stomach upset or digestive problems.
I take a multivitamin (for the over 50's!), Omega 3 fish oil and as necessary probiotic supplements. I also eat bio yoghurt regularly. I would recommend that action to anyone as a basic support to help maintaining health. I find that with the healthy diet I advocate and the addition of these supplements I stay well and in fact can't remember the last time I had to go to the doctors other than for routine check ups. Everyone is different though so it is still wise to get your own advice by consulting the appropriate expert.