Vitamin Supplements: Should You Be Taking Them?

Vitamins
Not getting enough nutrients in our diet can lead to some adverse symptoms, and if left unchecked, they can do serious damage internally. Anything from thinning hair to brittle nails, or more severe symptoms like depression. Vitamin D deficiencies, for example, are often misdiagnosed as anxiety, insomnia, and depression. 
All of this can sound scary and make us want to run to the store and buy quick-fix supplements. Before doing this, it’s important to remember our bodies function as an ecosystem. A holistic approach recognizes this, but reductionism – reducing everything into small parts like ‘required daily amounts of vitamins’ – can be counterproductive. When we take this reductionist approach to our bodies, it’s all too easy to disregard the synergy that takes place in our cells beyond our understanding.
I say all of this as a wellness coach and nutrition junkie who genuinely loves to talk about the nutrient content of food, and also takes certain vitamins. I value both a holistic and reductionist approach and believe they compliment each other. To incorporate them equally teaches balance between being aware of the details (vitamins, minerals) while always keeping the bigger picture in perspective (diet, habits).
The reality is, no one can say that you need supplements without knowing the state of your body. The best way to get straight to the point is with a blood test. It may not be a regular practice, but it is worth the effort to know if there are serious deficiencies needing attention.
I started incorporating blood work when I went plant-based three years ago — for my research and self-care purposes. My doctor runs a full blood test annually, and I’m merely grateful each time to learn that all my levels – iron, proteins, vitamin b12, vitamin D, cholesterol, etc. – are better than they’ve ever been. This is not to imply being vegan is inherently healthier than eating meat though – carnivores and herbivores alike are prone to nutrient deficiencies.
No matter how healthy we carry ourselves, our busy lives can make it difficult to get all the nutrients we need in a day. Because of this, some deficiencies are all too common. Below you’ll find which to look out for and what you can do to correct them if your levels are low.

Vitamin D

“Worldwide, an estimated 1 billion people have inadequate levels of vitamin D in their blood, and deficiencies can be found in all ethnicities and age groups […] Few foods are naturally rich in vitamin D, so the biggest dietary sources of vitamin D are fortified foods and vitamin supplements.”

Essential for: Heart health, upper-respiratory health, fertility, brain function, strengthening bones, proper thyroid function, and a multitude of other autoimmune functions.
Food: Hardly prevalent in diet, and most of us are not outdoors enough to get it from the sun on a daily basis.
Supplement: Look for over 2,000 IU minimum, up to 10,000 IU.

B Vitamins

Symptoms associated with B deficiency: brain fog, fatigue, thinning hair, back pain, infertility — just to name a few. Technically there are eight types of B’s, and we need all of them to work together to absorb into the body properly. B12 is found mainly in meat, but, low B12 levels are still common even for individuals that consume a lot of meat.

Essential For: Breaking down and using carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Important for body growth and red blood cell production.
Food: Spinach, beets, beans, almonds, leafy greens.
Supplement: The best way to know you’re getting enough of all B’s is to take a B-Complex, especially one high in B12.

Iron

A mild deficiency may not have any symptoms. However, common symptoms are fatigue, psychological depression, impaired cognitive function, and increased food cravings.

Essential ForParticipates in a wide variety of metabolic processes including oxygen transport, DNA synthesis, and electron transport.
Food: lentils, pumpkin seeds, spirulina, tomatoes, sunflower seeds quinoa — just to name a few.
Supplement:  Recommended 19.3–20.5 mg/day in men and 17.0–18.9 mg/day in women

Omega 3’s

Our brains require healthy fat to function. Not getting enough fat in our diets can genuinely cause symptoms of depression and anxiety. Both omega 3’s & 6’s are necessary, but we get plenty of omega 6’s in our every day meals. Too many omega 6’s can cause inflammation and other imbalances in our bodies. To balance this, it’s beneficial to know which foods are high in omega 3’s, but many choose to take a supplement to be safe.

Essential For: Supports healthy heart & brain function, plus healthy blood sugar and triglycerides.
Food: Chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts
Supplement: fish oil tablets are most common in stores, but if you’re plant-based, there are online shops that carry vegan omega 3s tablets.

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