Eating a healthy balanced diet is all that is needed for us all to stay in good health, according to the British Nutrition Foundation. However, certain groups of people suffer with malabsorption, which means they can’t absorb and make use of these vitamins and minerals. Too many people are at risk of vitamin and mineral deficiency for a variety of health-related reasons and access and cost are barriers to healthy diets. Express.co.uk chatted to Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy to find out if you should be taking supplements – and which ones you should take.
Although most healthy UK adults do not routinely need to take vitamin and mineral supplements, some groups are more at risk of deficiencies than others.
Those at risk of malabsorption, as well as those who are not getting enough goodness through their diets, are especially susceptible to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
If this sounds like you, you should discuss the need to take vitamin supplements with your doctor.
If you want to start taking a vitamin and mineral supplement, Dr Lee stresses how important it is to inform your GP and report any side effects to them.
The doctor added: “Purchase your supplements from a reputable seller, read the label and make sure you are not allergic to any of the other ingredients, and only take the recommended amount.”
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Despite the fact vitamins are not generally recommended for everybody, taking vitamin supplements is popular.
The average amount spent on vitamins and minerals in 2017 was £442 million – the most popular being cod liver oil and multivitamins.
While we are able to get everything we need from our food, it’s not as easy as you’d think.
Dr Lee said: “Many UK adults have lower than the recommended levels of many different vitamins and minerals, and actual deficiencies of vitamins and minerals are common.
“In a recent 2018 UK study, adults between the ages of 22 and 59 were found to be significantly lacking in 9 vitamins and minerals – these were riboflavin, vitamin B6, B12, folic acid, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and iodine.
“Younger adults had significantly lower levels than older adults of eight micronutrients.
“Selenium magnesium, iron and potassium intake were also lower than recommended.”
It’s all very well to say those with a healthy balanced diet do not need vitamins and mineral supplements, but in 2018, Britain was voted the country with the unhealthiest diet in Europe.
Out of 19 countries, Britain came top for consumption of junk food and the British Diet in general was declared ‘a public disaster zone’, by Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University.
Our diet is the reason why we actually do need vitamins and minerals in supplement form.
Dr Lee explained: “Junk food includes fried foods, takeaways, crisps and processed foods – all high in fat, sugar and salt, but containing virtually nothing in terms of micronutrients. The same applies to poorly prepared ready meals.”
For people on low incomes, it is impossible to afford five fruits and vegetables a day for a family (and 10 a day is now recommended).
There has been a 62 percent rise in the use of food banks in the past year.
Admirable and vital though this is, the food issued by food banks is aimed at curing hunger rather than meeting nutritional goals, according to Dr Lee.
The doctor added: “Meanwhile, the standard of UK soil continues to decline, meaning crops are now less nutritious than they used to be.
“On the other end of the scale, fasting is currently a trendy way to lose weight, but some people whose nutritional input may have already been poor will be at risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
“The current trend towards veganism also puts many people at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency.”
There’s no harm in supplementing with vitamins if your diet isn’t cutting it.
You may also need to supplement if you are particularly concerned about malabsorption.
The following things put you at risk of malabsorption:
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding
- Old age
- Coeliac disease
- Lactose intolerance
- Fructose intolerance
- Cow’s milk protein allergy
- Soya allergy
- Infection of the GI tract
- Pancreatic disease – chronic pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, pancreatic cancer
- Bile acid malabsorption
- Bowel resection
- Crohn’s Disease
- Anorexia nervosa
- Drugs e.g. tetracyclines, colchicine, cholestyramine, antacids, and some anti-obesity drugs
- Bariatric surgery
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