Vitamin Supplements: Daily Essential Vitamins for Men & Women
Vitamins have an important role in supporting both physical and mental health and can affect whether you develop illness and disease. Following a nutritious diet and taking daily vitamin supplements is an ideal way to ensure that you’re getting sufficient levels of these important micronutrients to ensure optimal health and well-being.
Multiple studies have found that we live longer, and enjoy a higher quality of life without chronic disease when we follow a healthy diet – featuring plants along with lean protein sources and unsaturated fats. Based on a poll conducted by NPR, three-quarters of American adults rank their diets as good, very good or excellent.
But the reality is, 80% of adults in the U.S. fail to eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. And, an astounding 70% eat a diet made up primarily of processed foods, and more than a third are obese.
Based on this diet, most of us are not getting sufficient levels of key vitamins and minerals. Data from the latest national statistics shows that vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E along with calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, choline and fiber are “underconsumed nutrients”.
While natural vitamin supplements can’t make up for an unhealthy diet and lifestyle, they can help fill-in the gaps. Perhaps that’s why more than half of Americans take vitamin supplements; 68 percent among those age 65 and older.
WHY DO WE NEED VITAMINS?
Vitamins are needed for cell function, growth and development. From supporting vision and bone health to defending against free-radical damage and enhancing beauty, vitamins help a wide range of bodily functions.
WHAT ARE VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS?
As the name implies, vitamin supplements are dietary supplements that are formulated with vitamins. Vitamins are available as single letter vitamin supplements (e.g., Vitamin C), combination vitamin supplements (B-Complex) or multi-vitamin & mineral supplements. Natural vitamin supplements come in a variety of forms, including capsules, tablets, powders, liquids, gel caps, softgels, drops and sprays.
WHAT TYPES OF VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS?
Our body requires 13 vitamins including 4 fat-soluble (A,D,E,K) and 9 water-soluble (C and the B-complex). With the exception of vitamin K, the B-vitamins are lettered in the order in which they were discovered. Vitamin K was named based on its function in proper blood clotting (K which is short for the Danish word koagulation).
Fat-Soluble Vitamin Supplements
Just as the name belies, fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins that are soluble in fats, allowing them to be stored in the body’s tissues. Fat-soluble vitamins are more easily absorbed in the presence of dietary fat. But when consumed in excess (hypervitaminosis), fat-soluble vitamins pose a greater risk for toxicity than their water-soluble counterparts. The fat-soluble vitamins include vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K.
Vitamin A & The Carotenoids
Vitamin A plays a role in vision, growth & development, reproduction, and immune system function. Vitamin A, along with the carotenoids, function as important antioxidants.
Vitamin A occurs in two forms – preformed vitamin A and provitamin A. Preformed vitamin A is found in foods of animal origin and typically occurs as retinyl palmitate. The body then converts this compound into three active forms: retinol, retinal and retinoic acid.
Provitamin A refers to a family of fat-soluble compounds called carotenoids. The carotenoid family includes not only beta-carotene but alpha-carotene, cryptoxanthin, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Some carotenoids such as beta carotene convert into vitamin A but their retinol activity is low. Most of the carotenoids’ benefits derive from their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Animal food sources that are the richest in vitamin A (retinols) include liver, kidney, egg yolks, butter, whole milk and cod liver oil. Non-fat milk products as well as some packaged foods are routinely fortified with vitamin A.
Plant food sources that are rich in carotenoids include fruits (apricots, melon, cantaloupe, pink grapefruit) and vegetables (red peppers, carrots, sweet potato, broccoli, kale, spinach, and squash.
Vitamin A in dietary supplements is often in the form of retinyl acetate or retinyl palmitate. Beta-carotene is the most commonly used carotenoid source. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin A in adults is 700-900 mcg per day (equivalent to 2,300- 3,000 IUs of retinol palmitate and 4,666-6,000 IUs of beta-carotene).
The primary function of vitamin D is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. By enhancing calcium absorption, vitamin D supports bone health and defends against osteoporosis. This fat-soluble vitamin also has anti-cancer benefits as those with lower intakes have higher rates of colon and breast cancer. Vitamin D enhances the immune system and may play a role in certain autoimmune diseases.
Despite its importance to health, as many as 90 percent of adults in the U.S. may be deficient in vitamin D, particularly seniors, those living in Northern latitudes and those with darker complexions.
Part of the reason for this widespread deficiency is because this vitamin is not naturally present in many foods and children have replaced vitamin D fortified milk with sweetened beverages. Plus, with increased use of sunscreen and more time spent indoors on computers, children, teens and adults are not getting sufficient UV exposure to synthesize vitamin D in their skin.
Vitamin D is concentrated in fish liver oils and the skin of fatty fish like salmon and tuna. The majority of vitamin D intake comes from fortified foods such as orange juice, milk, cereal, yogurt and margarine. Lower levels of vitamin D can also be found in liver, egg yolks, butter and dark green leafy vegetables.
Most nutritional supplements use D3 (animal-based cholecalciferol) as this form is three times more effective than D2. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin D in adults is 200-600 IUs per day (5-15 mcg). However, many healthcare practitioners recommend upwards of 5,000 IUs of vitamin D a day in adults.
Vitamin E refers to a group of eight fat-soluble compounds (4 tocopherols and 4 tocotrienols). Vitamin E plays a critical role in the body as an antioxidant, helping to prevent free-radical damage in fatty tissues. Vitamin E is well-known for its role in cardiovascular health through its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and cholesterol lowering effects. Vitamin E is also involved in immune system function. As a beauty ingredient, vitamin E is a natural moisturizer that promotes healthy hair, skin and nails.
Not all members of the vitamin E family have the same vitamin E activity with alpha-tocopherol having the highest level. The type of vitamin E supplied – natural or synthetic –determines how readily the vitamin converts into vitamin E activity. The natural form, (d-alpha-tocopherol) is more biologically available than the synthetic form (dl-alpha-tocopherol).
Foods rich in vitamin E include polyunsaturated vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, soybean, safflower), seeds (sunflower), nuts and nut oils (almonds, hazelnuts). Dark green leafy vegetables, legumes and some fruits also contain vitamin E. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin E in adults is 200-600 IUs per day (5-15 mcg).
Vitamin K refers to a family of three vitamins – K1 or phylloquinone which is made by plants; K2 or menaquinones which is derived from bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract; and K3 or menadione which is the only form which does not occur naturally in the body.
Vitamin K activates a protein tasked with forming clots, allowing the blood to clot normally. Working in concert with calcium, vitamin K converts a bone protein from an inactive to an active form, supporting bone strength and density.
You could be deficient in vitamin K if you’ve been taking antibiotics, have an intestinal disorder such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease, and take cholesterol-lowering or blood thinning medications.
Topical vitamin K is used to diminish broken capillaries and hyperpigmentation, minimize rosacea, and reduce dark circles under the eyes.
Foods that are a good source of vitamin K include dark leafy greens (Swiss chard, spinach, kale), fats and oils, some fruits and foods derived from bacterial fermentation (soy bean paste). The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin K in adults is 90-120 mcgs per day.
Water Soluble Vitamins
Water-soluble vitamins are vitamins that are dissolvable in water and are carried but not stored in body tissue. This group of vitamins which includes vitamin C plus the B- complex can be found in animal and plant foods as well as natural vitamin supplements.
Vitamin C & The Bioflavonoids
One of the most popular vitamins, vitamin C is known for its beneficial role in battling colds and other illnesses, particularly if you’re under stress.
Vitamin C is an essential component of collagen, the most abundant protein in the body that is essential for building new bone, cartilage, tendon, skin and other connective tissue. For this reason, vitamin C plays an important role in wound healing by supporting the development of new tissue and blood vessels.
Vitamin C works as an antioxidant to quench free-radicals in the aqueous or watery part of cells. It also regenerates other antioxidants and works in concert with vitamin E (which works in lipid environments).
Vitamin C must be obtained either through diet or supplementation as unlike most animals and plants, humans have lost the ability to synthesize this nutrient. Bioflavonoids are required for absorption of vitamin C and both work together in the body.
The foods that are the richest in vitamin C include peppers (red and green bell peppers), berries (strawberries, raspberries), citrus fruits (orange, grapefruit) and green vegetables (broccoli, kale). The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin C in adults is 75-90 mgs per day.
Thiamin (Vitamin B1)
Thiamin, also called B1, is a vitamin that helps the body’s cells transform carbohydrates into energy plus metabolize fats and protein. This vitamin supports a healthy nervous system and coordinates the activity of nerves and muscles.
Thiamin is sometimes called an “anti-stress” vitamin because it may strengthen the immune system and improve the body’s ability to withstand stressful conditions. Vitamin supplements for energy are often formulated with thiamin along with the other B-vitamins.
Good sources of thiamin include beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains and many fortified cereals and breads. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for thiamin in adults is 1.1 – 1.2 mgs per day.
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
Like the other B-vitamins, riboflavin plays a key role in breaking down carbohydrates, protein and fats, converting these macronutrients for energy production. Riboflavin regenerates glutathione, an enzyme that plays an important role in protecting cells from reactive oxygen species such as free-radicals. This vitamin also supports eye and skin health.
Many refined carbohydrates such as bread, cereal and pasta are fortified with riboflavin. Other sources of riboflavin include meat (liver, lamb) eggs, spinach and almonds. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for riboflavin in adults is 1.1 – 1.3 mgs per day.
Niacin (Vitamin B3)
Niacin is involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein and fat and as a result, plays a role in energy production. This vitamin is involved in DNA repair, is necessary for synthesizing sex and adrenal hormones and plays a role in the functioning of the nervous system.
Vitamin B3 comes in several forms including niacin, niacinamide and inositol hexaniacinate. At high levels only with a prescription, therapeutic niacin can improve cholesterol levels. Arthritis is lower in populations that consume high amounts of niacinamide as part of their diet. Unlike niacin, niacinamide does not cause the transient flushing of the skin which is a well-known side-effect especially when taken in high doses.
Good sources of niacin include meat (liver, chicken, tuna, beef, lamb) some fish (salmon, sardines) and legumes (split green peas, peanuts). The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for niacin in adults is 14-16 mgs per day.
Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5)
Pantothenic acid, also known as vitamin B5, is named after the Greek word pantos, meaning “from everywhere” because this B-vitamin is found in virtually all plants and animals.
Pantothenic acid is essential for metabolizing fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Vitamin B5 helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels and is required for red blood cell production. This vitamin also supports a healthy nervous system as well as adrenal function by producing sex and stress-related hormones.
Like biotin, pantothenic acid is a key beauty ingredient used in hair products. Panthenol, a form of pantothenic acid, is used in topical products as a lubricating and moisturizing agent to make hair shiny and skin supple. Pantothenic acid is formulated in dietary supplements to support healthy-looking hair.
Foods rich in pantothenic acid include meat, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds, and eggs. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for pantothenic acid in adults is 5 mg per day.
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Vitamin B6 is required to help convert stored carbohydrates into glucose to maintain normal blood sugar levels. This B-vitamin supports nervous system activity and brain health. Vitamin B6 is essential for red blood cell metabolism as it is required to make hemoglobin.
Vitamin B6 along with B12 and folic acid support cardiovascular health by helping lower homocysteine levels, an amino acid that is linked to inflammation and the development of heart disease.
Foods rich in B6 include turkey, grass-fed beef, tuna, pistachios, pinto beans, avocado and sunflower seeds. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin B6 in adults is 1.5 – 1.7 mgs per day.
Folate/Folic Acid (Vitamin B9)
Folate, also known as vitamin B9, gets its name from the Latin word folium or leaf because this B-vitamin is found in high concentrations in green leafy vegetables. Folic acid is a synthetic version of folate used in supplements and in fortified foods.
Folate is necessary for cells to divide properly as it is required for producing the genetic material DNA. This vitamin is especially important for women during pregnancy as a deficiency can lead to serious birth defects of the brain or spinal cord.
This B-vitamin supports healthy nerve function and is required to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is a well-known contributor to feelings of well-being. Folate is also required for red blood cells to mature properly.
Folate along with vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 support cardiovascular health by working synergistically to lower homocysteine levels in the blood.
Foods rich in folate include green leafy vegetables (spinach, mustard greens, romaine lettuce), beans, wheat germs as well as fortified cereals. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for folic acid in adults is 400 mcgs per day.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Like all B-vitamins, Vitamin B12 plays a role in energy production by working with enzymes to help metabolize carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Vitamin B12 also helps to maintain healthy blood and nerve cells as well as aid in making DNA.
A special digestive secretion called intrinsic factor is required for the body to break down and absorb vitamin B12 in the small intestine. As a result, in conditions that involve intestinal disorders or malabsorption problems, a deficiency in B12 can occur.
Animals provide the richest source of B12 especially liver and kidneys. Other good sources include eggs, dairy, clams and fish like sardines and salmon. Cultured and fermented bean products, sea vegetables, algaes and Brewer’s yeast may contain significant sources of B12. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Vitamin B12 in adults is 2.4 mcgs per day.
Biotin (Vitamin H)
Biotin is sometimes referred to as vitamin H which is short for “Haar und Haut” – the German words for “hair and skin”. As a beauty supplement, biotin is often recommended for strengthening hair and nails.
Biotin helps the body convert carbohydrates into glucose, which is necessary for it to make energy. Biotin also helps to metabolize amino acids and fat that the body uses to build protein needed for repairing and maintaining cells.
Biotin is manufactured by the beneficial bacteria in the gut so deficiencies of this vitamin can occur when antibiotics are used long-term.
Skin related problems are the most common biotin deficiency-related symptoms including seborrheic dermatitis in adults (a common condition associated with oily skin and dandruff) and cradle cap in infants.
Foods rich in biotin include cooked eggs, sardines, nuts and nut butters, legumes, cauliflower, mushrooms, bananas and whole grains.
A Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for biotin has not been established but upwards of 5,000 mcgs a day is considered safe and well-tolerated.
VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS FOR WOMEN
Although all adults can benefit by taking a vitamin supplement to cover gaps in their diet, this health-promoting practice can be especially beneficial to women based on their unique health needs.
Women of all ages need to be concerned about maintaining strong bones. Given the importance of vitamin D in helping maintain bone strength & density, women should supplement with vitamin D and vitamin K (along with calcium, magnesium, boron).
Women of all ages are concerned with fighting aging and looking their best. Vitamins A, C and E are not only underconsumed but are the building block of any beauty routine. These vitamins along with biotin and pantothenic acid support healthy hair, skin and nails.
Women have more responsibilities than ever before and are often caught in the middle between managing aging parents while taking care of children. Throw in work and other responsibilities, it’s no wonder that lack of energy is the #1 health compliant. Taking the B-complex is a simple way to support energy levels throughout the day.
Women may be at risk for a vitamin deficiency if they:
- Eat a diet that includes many processed foods and is low in whole foods like fresh fruits and vegetables
- Are vegan or vegetarian
- Are underweight or consume too few calories
- Are of reproductive age
- Are over the age of 65
VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS FOR MEN
Men are more likely to eat a Western diet which emphasizes animal proteins, saturated and trans fats along with packaged, processed foods. Fillng up on these foods, crowds out health promoting foods like fruits and vegetables. Men who have a low intake of plant foods can fill in the gaps by taking a supplement that features vitamin A and the carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin K.
Given that a large proportion of the population is deficient in vitamin D, it is likely that many men can benefit from taking a vitamin D supplement.
More men exercise on a regular basis than women which means they may be more likely to spend time outdoors whether golfing, gardening or running. More outdoor activity means more exposure to UV light, and men are less likely to be vigilant about using sunscreen. By supplementing their diet with the antioxidant vitamins, A, C and E, men can better protect their skin from the sun’s harmful rays.
More than ever, men are juggling careers, family and other priorities. Lack of sleep and poor diet can lead to fatigue making supplementing with the B-complex ideal to support energy levels throughout the day.