The ABCs of Supplementing your Diet with Vitamins

Vitamins play a significant role in maintaining your overall health, and may even help reduce the risk of developing certain chronic illnesses. Ideally, your diet provides a significant amount of the vitamins your body needs, one that includes a variety of foods, including lots of whole grains, fruits, veggies, and lean proteins is a good place to start. But supplements should be part of your vitamin intake as well- whether they come in pill form, or in “enriched” energy drinks. But let’s repeat what they are – supplements. As in something that completes or enhances your diet, not a replacement for it.  

Here are the ABCs of what vitamins your body needs, where you can find them and what they do for you. 

Vitamin A
Vitamin A is critical for maintaining healthy vision, brain function, building strong bones and much more. It’s an antioxidant, which means that on top of the benefits mentioned above it also reduces inflammation and supports immune function. Two key components for fighting common illnesses like cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s,  Parkinson’s, many forms of cancer and psychological disorders.

Some of the best sources of Vitamin A include eggs, milk, liver, carrots, yellow or orange vegetables such as squash, spinach, and other leafy green vegetables.

While the American population generally maintains healthy body levels of vitamin A, there are still some groups that suffer from a deficiency.

Vitamin B
The family of B vitamins commonly known for being beneficial for skin health (even topically), but they pack an even more powerful punch than just warding off dry, itchy skin. Vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid* are vital to cell and DNA production, as well as to metabolism and brain function. This becomes especially important when a woman is pregnant, being that all of those processes are in action while producing a whole new human being! Folic acid, specifically, is critical for proper fetal development and the prevention of birth defects. For this reason, obstetricians will usually prescribe prenatal vitamins to soon-to-be-moms, to make sure they’re getting the right dose of folic acid (and DHA, another primary component of the biological development of many human organs). Some women like to take prenatal vitamins even when they’re not pregnant, as they enjoy some of their common secondary effects: more robust hair and nail growth.

Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a miraculous vitamin that can be found in abundance in vegetables and fruits. It helps the body both regenerate and repair connective tissue, protects against heart disease, absorbs iron, decreases “bad” cholesterol, helps to protect against a variety of cancers, helps neutralize the effects of preservatives and more. Clearly, vitamin C does way more than just stave off colds!

As an antioxidant, it has been found to be especially effective for skin-care purposes. Not only do antioxidants help safeguard your skin against sun damage and skin cancer, they also prevent further dermatological harm by facilitating our skin’s self-reparative processes.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential to our bodies’ ability to absorb calcium, making it just as important as the latter for bone health, as well. Luckily, not only is this crucial vitamin available in supplements as well as foods such as eggs, seafood, mushrooms, and some fortified dairy products and cereals, but our body can actually produce its own vitamin D when exposed to the sun. Ten to fifteen minutes of sunlight daily is usually enough to get that process going, but don’t forget the sunscreen!

Vitamin E
While we’re on the topic of protecting our skin, Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s department of dermatology has found vitamins C and E—otherwise known as antioxidants—to be especially effective for skin-care purposes. (Vitamin C is not just for staving off colds!) Not only do antioxidants (including vitamin A) help safeguard your skin against sun damage and skin cancer, they also prevent further dermatological harm by facilitating our skin’s self-reparative processes. With other sources indicating that vitamins A, C, and E may even aid in reversing some external signs of aging, foods such as broccoli and tomatoes (vitamins A, C) and many nuts and seed varieties (vitamin E) may be the perfect natural complements to all those creams in your medicine cabinet.

As always, before taking any new nutritional supplements, check with your doctor to make sure you’re not inadvertently overdosing on any particular vitamin since the side-effects of such a mistake can severely outweigh the health benefits of taking them in the first place. If you have any preexisting medical condition, are pregnant, or are already taking any other supplements, prescriptions, or herbs, it is even more imperative to ensure that there is no danger of contraindication.