We all know about the importance of eating a healthy, balanced diet; however, let’s be real here, at times, following a well-rounded diet can be challenging. This reality is leaving adults deficient in critical nutrients, such as vitamins D and E, iron, calcium and magnesium.
To fill nutritional gaps, millions of Americans are increasingly using supplements, which can be beneficial, but at the same time, if not taken correctly, can be dangerous to one’s health. We help people understand the role of certain vitamins and minerals in your lifestyle in our book The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear the Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health.
Based on in-depth evaluation of the body of research out there as well as insights as practicing physicians, here are the top 5 vitamins and minerals worth taking.
There are several B vitamins, and all play an essential role in your health. Of all the B vitamins, the most common deficiency we see is that of B12. This vitamin is found in common foods, including meat, dairy and fish; however, depending on your diet and your ability to absorb B12, you may need extra.
B12 is needed for proper functioning of the nervous system, and if you lack this vital component, your nerves are essentially sluggish and you may experience neurological issues, such as memory loss, numbness and tingling and fatigue. Adequate replacement of B12 through pills, nasal sprays or shots has been shown to be effective.
Essential to every cell in the body, vitamin D was first identified for its utility in helping facilitate calcium absorption and building bones; however, in recent years, vitamin D deficiency has been linked with many conditions, including cancer, dementia and depression.
Your body synthesizes vitamin D in your kidney and liver after you’ve been exposed to sunlight, but many of us lack adequate sun exposure due to climate, spending time indoors and the widespread — although important — use of sunscreen.
There are few foods that have therapeutic levels of vitamin D naturally (liver and wild caught salmon are the best dietary sources). Because vitamin D can be difficult to obtain, work with your doctor to determine your vitamin D level and supplement to address any deficiency. If you need to supplement, be sure to take a high quality personalized multivitamin to address your individual needs.
The body needs iodine to support your thyroid, which controls the body's metabolism and fosters proper bone and brain development during pregnancy and infancy.
There are a number of natural sources of iodine in our diets and you can get recommended amounts of this mineral by eating a variety of foods, such as salt water fish, dairy products and soy milk. While many Americans are getting the recommended level of iodine in their diet, many others, especially those on a low salt diet, are ingesting low amounts of this mineral.
Some multivitamins contain the recommended amount of iodine, while most do not contain any at all. It’s important to take a multivitamin that contains the right amount of iodine based on your individual needs; getting too much may cause your thyroid to flare up, leading to palpitations and anxiety.
Found in every cell of the body, iron is considered an essential mineral because it is used by your body to hold on to oxygen in your blood and transport it to your tissues. At the cellular level, iron is used to make energy and fuel enzymes.
Many people with iron deficiency report symptoms of fatigue, brain fog, lack of energy, depression and hair loss. Iron deficiency may be due to blood loss, poor diet or an inability to absorb enough iron from foods. Too much iron can damage your body and cause upset stomach and constipation.
Some of the best dietary sources of iron are red meat, dried beans, spinach and select fish. If you suspect you may be iron deficient, consult your physician and determine the best iron source and amount for you.
Magnesium is important for regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure and making protein, bone, and DNA. Furthermore, studies have shown magnesium can help reduce the frequency of migraine attacks in people with low levels of this mineral.
Magnesium is found naturally in many foods, such as legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains and green leafy vegetables, and is added to some fortified foods. However, most Americans’ diets provide less than the recommended amounts of magnesium. Low levels of magnesium for long periods of time can results in loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and weakness. The National Institutes of Health notes that extreme magnesium deficiency can cause numbness, tingling, muscle cramps, seizures, personality changes and an abnormal heart rhythm.
Arielle Miller Levitan, MD, is a board-certified internal medicine physician and the cofounder of Vous Vitamin, LLC. She is the author of The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health. She attended Stanford University and Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and has served as chief medical resident for the Northwestern University McGraw Medical Center’s Evanston Hospital Program and as a clinical instructor for its medical school. She has a special interest in women’s health and preventive medicine and currently practices general internal medicine on the North Shore of Chicago, where she teaches medical students on-site. She enjoys cooking, cardio tennis, running, being a soccer mom (sometimes) and spending time with her three kids and husband (also a doctor of internal medicine).
Romy Block, MD, is a board-certified specialist in endocrine and metabolism medicine, member of American Thyroid Association, and the cofounder of Vous Vitamin, LLC. She is the author of The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health. She attended Tufts University and Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine. She completed residency training in internal medicine at North Shore University Hospital—North Shore-LIJ and did a fellowship at New York University. She practices on the North Shore of Chicago, where she specializes in thyroid disorders and pituitary diseases. She enjoys travel, food and wine, working out with her personal trainer and spending time with her husband (a pulmonary and sleep specialist) and their three boys.