Take any random person off the street and they will likely have at least one vitamin or mineral deficiency that they aren't even aware of.
For example, researchers warn that vitamin D deficiency affects more than 80% of specific population groups, while over 40% of US adults do not consume enough magnesium in their diets.
One of the underlying causes of these widespread deficiencies is the abysmal lack of nutrients in everyday foods.
Yet, vitamins and minerals are essential to a healthy diet since your body can't synthesize them. If your diet is lacking in essential nutrients, you may want to consider a supplement such as a multivitamin.
Have you ever looked at the myriad of vitamin supplements online and wondered which are absolutely essential?
This article looks at the micronutrients most often implicated in deficiencies, such as vitamins A, B9, B12, C, D, E, K, magnesium, and calcium, and helps you discover the vitamins and minerals you should take for optimal health.
Vitamin A for Eyesight, Skin Health and Fertility
What is vitamin А?
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, part of a group called retinoids, including retinol, retinal, and retinyl.
In addition to consuming preformed vitamin A with your diet, your body can produce retinoids from provitamins called carotenoids.
The main provitamin A is beta-carotene, and carrots are amongst its most popular sources. Other provitamin A carotenoids are alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin.
Vitamin A is also an antioxidant that helps reduce inflammation and regulate the immune system (1, 2).
Health benefits of vitamin А
Vitamin A is crucial for your vision, reproductive organs' function, and immune system (3).
Studies show that vitamin A is necessary to produce rhodopsin, a protein in your retina that absorbs light (4).
In addition, supplementing with the vitamin may slow down the age-related changes in the retina that lead to a decline in eyesight in older individuals. Research reports that the risk of macular degeneration is 25% lower in older people who take vitamin A (5).
Symptoms of vitamin А deficiency
Vitamin A deficiency can lead to night blindness, the most distinct symptom of the condition. The condition is the inability to see well at night or in poor light, making driving at night dangerous.
Studies also show that people with vitamin A deficiency are more likely to suffer from anemia and severe infectious diseases (6, 7).
Less severe symptoms of vitamin A deficiency include skin issues like hyperkeratosis and acne (8, 9).
How to ensure that you're getting the required vitamin А intake
You can get vitamin A in your diet in the form of retinoids by consuming animal products, especially liver and fish oils. Still, too much liver and fish oil or supplementing with retinoids can lead to toxicity.
The toxicity affects the liver most severely. Retinoids from supplements or liver can also harm the fetus during the first trimester of pregnancy in pregnant women.
On the other hand, consuming carotenoids has no risk of toxicity. Most dietary supplements contain provitamin A sourced from leafy green vegetables, orange and yellow vegetables, tomato products, fruits, and vegetable oils.
Vitamin B9 for Fetal and Heart Health
What is vitamin B9?
Vitamin B9 is also known as folic acid or folate. It is a water-soluble B vitamin that plays a critical role in synthesizing DNA, the metabolism of amino acids, and, therefore, the multiplications of body cells. Folate is the naturally occurring form, while folic acid is the synthetic form most often used in supplementation.
Health benefits of vitamin B9
Folic acid supplements are always recommended in the early stages of pregnancy to prevent miscarriage and problems with fetal development, such as neural tube defects.
In addition, studies report that vitamin B9 supplementation may provide benefits for cardiovascular health (10).
Symptoms of vitamin B9 deficiency
Anemia is one of the most well-known symptoms of vitamin B9 deficiency. It is characterized by low counts of red blood cells, which are larger than usual. Therefore the condition bears the name "megaloblastic anemia."
Low folate can also result in canker sores, changes in your hair and fingernails, gastrointestinal problems, and elevated homocysteine levels.
How to ensure that you're getting the required vitamin B9 intake
You can increase your folate intake by consuming more dark green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, grains, and animal products, as they are all good sources of this important nutrient.
Spinach, asparagus, and brussels sprouts are the best plant sources. Liver is the best animal source, but its consumption is not recommended during the first trimester of pregnancy due to its high vitamin A content.
Pregnant women should supplement at least 0.4 mg of folic acid per day.
Vitamin B12 for Energy and Brain Health
What is vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is a group of water-soluble B vitamins called cobalamines because they contain the mineral cobalt in their molecules.
The metabolically active forms of the B vitamin are methylcobalamin and 5-deoxyadenosylcobalamin (11). Hydroxocobalamin and cyanocobalamin are common forms your body can convert into active forms for use in the body.
Health benefits of vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is essential for your nervous system, red blood cell formation, and DNA synthesis in all of your cells.
In addition, supplementing with vitamin B12 may help improve the subjective perception of energy levels and reduce nerve pain symptoms (12, 13).
Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency
Similar to folate, vitamin B12 deficiency is also characterized by megaloblastic anemia. However, this type of anemia develops after years of vitamin B12 deficiency.
More subtle symptoms, such as neurological changes, may appear much earlier (14).
They include numbness in the hands and feet, and the damage may be irreversible if the condition is not detected and treated early.
How to ensure that you're getting the required vitamin B12 intake
Vitamin B12 is present naturally only in animal products.
The bioavailability of the vitamin is three times higher in dairy products than in meat, fish, or poultry. In addition, numerous fortified foods containing added vitamin B12, like fortified cereals, milk, and yogurt, are readily available. Dietary supplements can also ensure you maintain a sufficient vitamin B intake.
If you suspect that you are not getting enough vitamin B12 in your diet, you should get your serum levels checked in combination with methylmalonic acid (MMA) levels, a cobalamin-associated metabolite (15).
There is no risk for vitamin B12 toxicity, even in cases of supplementation with very high doses.
Vitamin C for Skin Health and Inflammation
What is vitamin C?
Vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid, is arguably the most popular water-soluble vitamin and antioxidant.
Vitamin C plays a critical role in neutralizing oxidative stress in the body, replenishing other antioxidants, and activating enzymes that produce vital molecules in your body - collagen, L-carnitine, noradrenaline, etc.
Health benefits of vitamin C
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that regulates your immune system and reduces inflammation. Studies suggest that vitamin C can help regenerate other antioxidants within the body, including alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) (16).
As an antioxidant, vitamin C is required for the biosynthesis of collagen, L-carnitine, and certain neurotransmitters. Collagen is the main protein in your skin and connective tissues, while L-carnitine plays a crucial role in metabolism.
Vitamin C also boosts iron absorption from plant products which can help prevent anemia if you do not eat meat, fish, and dairy.
Symptoms of vitamin C deficiency
Insufficient vitamin C intake can lead to scurvy(17).
The symptoms include weakness, fatigue, easy bruising, spontaneous bleeding, pain in the lower limbs, swelling, ulceration of the gums, loss of teeth, and poor wound healing.
If left untreated, scurvy can progress to jaundice, neuropathy, hemolysis, seizures, and death.
How to ensure that you're getting the required vitamin C intake
You need at least 90-110 mg per day (18). Certain population groups, such as smokers, athletes, and lactating women, may need 200 mg or more daily to replenish their antioxidant stores.
If you do not have several servings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily, then it is likely that you are not consuming enough vitamin C, and you should consider adding a supplement.
Vitamin D for Bone Health and Immunity
What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a collective term for several fat-soluble vitamins. The ones with importance to human health are vitamin D2 and vitamin D3.
Vitamin D3 is the only vitamin that your body can produce on its own when exposed to direct sunlight or UV rays. At the same time, it is the most common vitamin deficiency (19).
According to research, 42% of adults in the United States are deficient. The incidence increases to 70% in Hispanic adults and 82% in African Americans (20).
Health benefits of vitamin D
Vitamin D plays a critical role in calcium absorption and metabolism. It ensures optimal serum and bone calcium levels and protects against rickets in children, osteomalacia, and adult osteoporosis (21).
Vitamin D helps reduce inflammation and regulates the activity of your immune system. Vitamin D may also reduce the risk of certain cancers, including breast and colon cancer (22).
Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency
Symptoms may include weak bones, bone pain, frequent infections, fatigue, and depression.
How to ensure that you're getting the required vitamin D intake
Very few foods contain vitamin D. Mushrooms grown in UV light contain D2 (ergocalciferol), while fatty fish, fish oil, and egg yolks have D3 (cholecalciferol).
Your body can produce it endogenously when sunlight's ultraviolet (UV) rays strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis.
If you rarely consume fish and don't have sufficient daily sun exposure, then you are most likely deficient in vitamin D. Therefore, experts recommend that everyone take a dietary supplement, especially during the winter months (23).
Vitamin E for Oxidative Stress
What is vitamin E?
Vitamin E stands for a group of fat-soluble antioxidants called tocopherols and tocotrienols. There are eight naturally occurring forms: alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol, and alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocotrienol
Alpha- (or α-) tocopherol is the main form that can cover your body's needs for vitamin E.
Health benefits of vitamin E
Vitamin E has three main health benefits - antioxidant effects, immunomodulation, and reduced risk of thrombosis.
This vitamin can prevent the production of active radicals when your body uses fat for energy. Alpha-tocopherol also protects cells against the damaging effects of inflammation and oxidative stress.
Symptoms of vitamin E deficiency
Vitamin E deficiency symptoms include peripheral neuropathy, muscle weakness, retinopathy, and impairment of the immune response (24)
How to ensure that you're getting the required vitamin E intake
The best sources of alpha-tocopherol are nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils. If you don't consume all these often, you may be at risk of deficiency.
In such cases, you should consider taking a multivitamin containing sufficient vitamin E - at least 15 mg per daily dose. People on low-fat diets or those with malabsorption are at the highest risk of a deficiency.
Vitamin K for Vascular and Bone Health
What is vitamin K?
Vitamin K is a collective term for a group of bioactive molecules, including phylloquinone (vitamin K1) and a series of menaquinones (vitamin K2). Scientists have numbered the series of menaquinones from menaquinone-4 to menaquinone-13.
Phylloquinone is of plant origin, while menaquinones, predominantly of bacterial origin, are present in modest amounts in various animal-based and fermented foods.
Health benefits of vitamin K
Vitamin K is crucial for normal hemostasis. It prevents spontaneous bleeding and hemorrhages.
Studies show that vitamin K slows down the calcification of blood vessels, which may otherwise contribute to cardiovascular disease (25).
Instead, vitamin K directs the calcium towards your bones and reduces the risk of osteoporosis.
Symptoms of vitamin K deficiency
Low vitamin K levels may slow down the process of bone mineralization and increase the risk of osteoporosis.
Instead of bone mineralization, the calcium may deposit in the blood vessels, which would speed up the process of atherosclerosis and contribute to heart disease.
How to ensure that you're getting the required vitamin K intake
Food sources of phylloquinone include green leafy vegetables, vegetable oils, and some fruits. Meat, dairy foods, and eggs contain low levels of phylloquinone but modest amounts of menaquinones (26).
Supplements with vitamin K2 appear to be more effective than those containing vitamin K1.
It would be best if you took a multivitamin that combined vitamin D3 and K2. Vitamin D ensures adequate calcium absorption, while vitamin K ensures calcium goes into the bones, not your blood vessels.
Calcium for Bone Health
What is calcium?
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in your body, and 98% of it is in your bones and teeth. It is an essential mineral the body cannot produce on its own, so you must consume it in your diet.
The calcium in your bones provides strength and density. In addition, calcium is one of the ions in your body fluids. It helps muscle contraction, blood vessel contraction, dilation, and nerve signal transmission.
Health benefits of calcium
Calcium enables you to maintain higher bone density and reduce your risk of osteoporosis.
Studies also show that adequate calcium intake may help reduce symptoms of premenstrual syndrome in women (27).
In addition, your body maintains constant serum calcium levels so that your heart, muscles, and nervous system can function correctly.
Symptoms of calcium deficiency
Low calcium intake can increase your risk of low bone density, bone loss, and osteoporosis.
In severe cases, serum calcium levels may also decrease, leading to muscle spasms and pain. Extreme cases also involve convulsions and arrhythmia, which can be life-threatening.
How to ensure that you're getting the required calcium intake
Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are the best dietary sources of calcium. Fish is also a good option when consumed with the bones.
The best plant options include kale, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage (bok choy). Unfortunately, plants also contain oxalic acid and phytic acid, significantly reducing calcium absorption. For example, calcium absorption from spinach is only 5%.
That's why people who do not consume dairy or animal products should consider a multivitamin that contains calcium or a dedicated calcium supplement.
Magnesium for Sleep and Blood pressure
What is magnesium?
Magnesium is another essential mineral that plays a critical role in more than 300 processes in the human body.
It is also one of the most commonly deficient minerals in modern diets. Scientists report that around 48% of the US population consumes less than the recommended magnesium required (28).
It regulates protein synthesis, energy production, bone formation, DNA synthesis, antioxidant production, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation.
Health benefits of magnesium
Supplementing magnesium has numerous health benefits. Studies report that it acts as a natural vasodilator and helps lower blood pressure in individuals with hypertension (29, 30).
Besides, magnesium is also effective in some forms of arrhythmia. Researchers also suggest that it may help lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity in people with metabolic syndrome and diabetes (31).
Magnesium's soothing effects on the nervous system can also help you relax and improve sleep (32).
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency
Symptoms include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, numbness, tingling, muscle contractions and cramps, seizures, and arrhythmias.
In severe cases, the condition disturbs the homeostasis of other minerals and may lead to life-threatening hypocalcemia or hypokalemia.
How to ensure that you're getting the required magnesium intake
Nuts and green leafy vegetables are the only food with sufficient magnesium levels, but they also contain anti-nutrients like phytic acid that block magnesium absorption (33).
Other viable options, such as wheat, rice, and corn, are usually depleted of up to 97% of their mineral content due to modern processing and refining methods (34).
That's why taking a dietary supplement such as a multivitamin that contains magnesium is always a great idea.
Ensure that your multivitamin contains adequate amounts of organic magnesium, which has considerably better absorption than non-organic options such as magnesium oxide.
Should you take a Multivitamin?
Taking a multivitamin is an excellent idea for anyone looking to ensure that they take adequate amounts of all the essential vitamins and minerals.
Increasing your micronutrient intake is especially important for those at a higher risk of a deficiency, such as athletes and older individuals. Pregnant women should also consider taking a prenatal vitamin supplement to avoid deficiencies in the fetus.
People who follow restrictive diets or those with allergies, intolerance, and malabsorption should also consider taking a multivitamin supplement.
Always consult your doctor or healthcare provider before taking any multivitamin or dietary supplement.
Note: This article is for informational purposes only and not intended for use as medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider before starting any dietary supplement.