Considering a Vitamin or Mineral Supplement?

Many people turn to dietary supplements to support their health and prevent nutrient deficiencies.

We can get all of the nutrients we need from food, but very few people do.
Some nutrients, such as vitamin D and copper, are found in few foods and others, like magnesium, are found in a variety of foods but in very small quantities. In addition, people who are dieting are less likely to meet their vitamin and mineral needs (because they are consuming less food overall and therefore have fewer opportunities to consume nutrients), and those who do not eat a diverse array of nutrient-rich foods will also have a tough time meeting all of their nutrient needs.

We are currently living in a state of overabundance but under-nutrition.

As a nation we are consuming too many calories but not getting enough of the nutrients necessary for good health. And, because many people don’t eat as well as they would like, they may turn to dietary supplements to help fill in the gaps.

In fact, more than half of the U.S. population uses dietary supplements, indicating a trend toward taking personal responsibility of one’s own health in addition to acceptance of supplementation as a potential route to better health and protection against age- and diet-related diseases.

Dietary Supplements, Defined
A dietary supplement is a product that:

  • Is intended to supplement the diet;
  • Contains one or more dietary ingredients (including vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and certain other substances) or their constituents;
  • Is intended to be taken by mouth, in forms such as tablet, capsule, powder, softgel, gelcap, or liquid;
  • Is labeled as being a dietary supplement
  • It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

There are many types of dietary supplements on the market today that fall into several categories. Some of the main supplementation categories include vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and herbal supplements.

Vitamins are substances that regulate various body processes.
Vitamins are chemical compounds necessary for normal growth and maintenance of health. Vitamins may act as coenzymes, thereby helping the action of enzymes (proteins that are essential for certain reactions in the body).

Minerals make up the structure of many cells.
For instance, minerals make up the hard part of bones, teeth and nails. In addition, some minerals also act as coenzymes and can trigger enzymatic reactions.

Antioxidants are substances that help the body protect itself from free radical damage.
Our bodies produce free radicals and we are exposed to them in the environment. Free radicals are both beneficial and harmful to human health. However, overproduction of free radicals in conjunction with low antioxidant levels can damage cells, proteins and DNA within the body.

An herb is a plant or plant part including leaves, flowers, roots or seeds.
Sometimes the terms “herb” and “botanical” are used interchangeably.

Dietary supplements contribute to one’s overall nutrient intake. And, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, though nutrient needs should be met primarily through food, fortified foods and supplements may be useful for providing specific nutrients consumed in less than recommended amounts. The Dietary Guidelines outlines some situations where people should consume a nutrient through food or supplementation. These include:

  • folic acid for women who are capable of becoming pregnant,
  • supplemental iron for pregnant women (under the guidance of their obstetrician),
  • B12 for individuals 50 years of age or older,
  • vitamin D and calcium + vitamin D for postmenopausal women who do not consume enough of these nutrients through their diet.

Additionally, many people’s diets may be lacking enough fiber (the average fiber intake in the U.S. is half of what is recommended), magnesium, iron and potassium.

Reasons People Supplement
People choose dietary supplements for a variety of reasons including: to improve nutrition, make up for nutrients missing or in low levels in the food supply, or to increase energy or performance.

Prior to taking a dietary supplement, have a registered dietitian (RD) take a look at your diet and blood tests (if available) and see where you may be falling short. A registered dietitian can recommend food sources of nutrients and also help you determine if supplementation with a dietary supplement is right for you, how much you need and how to take it.


1 Gahche, J., Bailey, R., Burt, V., Hughes, J., Yetley, E., Dwyer, J., Picciano, F., McDowell, M., and C. Sempos. 2011. Dietary supplement use among U.S. adults has increased since NHANES III (1988–1994). NCHS data brief, no 61. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.

2 Barnes PM, Bloom B, Nahin R. Complementary and alternative medicine use among adults and children: United States, 2007. CDC National Health Statistics Report #12. 2008.

3 U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 2010.

4 Nutrition Business Journal. 2010 Supplement Business Report. Penton Media, Inc.

5 National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). 2010. Using Dietary Supplements Wisely. NCCAM Publication No. D426.

6 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Data Brief. Use of Dietary Supplements. 2002.

7 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA).

8 Institute of Medicine of the Nation al Academies. 2000. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. National Academy Press. Washington, D.C.; Clinical Biochemistry 1999;32:595-603.

9 Institute of Medicine of the National Academies 2000. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. National Academy Press. Washington, D.C.; Clinical Biochemistry 1999;32:595-603.

10 Duyff RL. American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, NJ 2006.

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