Health & Wellness

Do you really need that supplement?

Always check with your doctor before taking new vitamins
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The vitamins and minerals section of most pharmacies is an overwhelming experience. How do we know what’s good for us? We spoke to two expert registered dieticians, Hanah Cannon, at Island Nutrition and Mellonie Furbert, Service Provider at the Department of Health, who answered our questions and explained how to find the right vitamin or supplement for you:

What age should you start supplementing your diet?

We would not recommend a specific age where we all need to start supplementing. It is more about what our health status is, or our goals. For example, being pregnant, having a recent medical diagnosis, or frequent alcohol consumption has various supplemental needs. It is more about the stage in life than specifically our age that indicates our need to supplement or not.

What are some signs of certain vitamin deficiencies?

Deficiencies can present in many ways. You may notice signs such as fatigue, difficulty sleeping, cuts or wounds that are slow to heal, headaches or joint pains, changes in the health of our skin, hair or nails and even tooth or bone density problems. The best way to know for certain is to take a blood test with your GP.

How can you know which supplement is right for you?

Always be sure to ask your doctor or the pharmacist who can guide you based on your other supplements, medications and health conditions. They’ll be able to assist you with the various types of supplements you may need, along with the size of the dose that’s best for you.

Can we get everything we need by simply following a healthy diet?

Typically, a person who eats a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, wholegrain carbohydrates and lean proteins including oily fish and legumes, can get all the nutrients they need. Others may require additional supplements if they have increased needs due to a diagnosed medical condition, if they have had certain types of surgery, or if they have certain dietary preferences such as eating a plant-based diet.

How do we know what we should take?

If you suspect a deficiency, the best way to know what to take is through a blood test. Vitamin supplementation is only usually recommended to replace a deficiency and the best way to diagnose this is with a simple blood test from your doctor.

Can certain vitamins or supplements actually do more harm than good?

The main cause for concern day to day is going to be from interactions with medications. We do have to be careful when taking certain medications with vitamin supplements. It is very important for your doctor or pharmacist to be aware of any supplements you take.

People on chemotherapy or radiation therapy should not supplement on their own and should inform their oncologist of all dietary supplements and alternative therapies. This is because certain vitamins or antioxidants in high doses may interact with the treatment, lessening the effects.

Can we take too much?

Yes. We need to be aware of dosing and risk of vitamin build up in the body or toxicity. With water soluble vitamins, excess is urinated out so goes to waste and is not usually harmful in the long term. That said, if you are experiencing nausea, abdominal cramps, or diarrhoea it may be worth taking a look at whether you are exceeding your needs for Vitamin C, Zinc or Magnesium. Fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K can build up in the body with time and become toxic in high doses. Check that you are not doubling up here.

Ms Furbert explained how to find the correct supplements, should you need them:

Vitamins and minerals are divided into three groups:

1. Broad Spectrum: Contain all or most vitamins and minerals and do not exceed Dietary Reference Intake for nutrients according to the children, men and women, pregnant persons, and seniors.

2. High Potency: Contains amounts of some vitamins and minerals substantially higher than Dietary Reference Intake and might include other nutrients and botanical ingredients.

3. Specialised vitamins and minerals: These combine several vitamins and minerals, botanical and specialty ingredients for specific conditions such as energy, athletic performance or weight control.

If you feel your diet is below par, you could take a general A-Z in the short term but may want to consider getting to the root cause and finding ways to meet your needs through your food choices.

In terms of the options, we can choose from gummies, chewables, capsules or liquid versions. Gummies may be more appealing but contain less vitamins and minerals than tablet form.

Chewables might be better than tablets for those prone to reflux as they are chewed up before they meet the stomach. Liquid versions are good for swallow problems or mixing into drinks but may need higher doses. There is no right answer as long as you consider the pros and cons of each and find one that suits your lifestyle.

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