If a little bit is good for you then more is better. That’s the premise of supplements. Before you pick that bottle of supplements, easily available at grocery stores, chemists, mostly without a doctor’s prescription you need to understand if you really need it.

Unless you are an alcoholic, elderly, take steroids, or have mal-absorption (a Bariatric surgery patient) you would not need a supplement after all. Still, people consume supplements indiscriminately and consider it to be a panacea for correcting their dietary and lifestyle mistakes. Unfortunately, this is not true. Supplements may have side effects if you take them before surgery or with other medicines.

But first, you need to know if you suffer from deficiency?

Vitamin Deficiency Deficient Group Disease Risk
Vitamin C Smokers and Second-Hand Smokers Reduced Immunity
Calcium Women post 30 Osteoporosis
Vitamin D Almost 80-90 percent of people Reduced Immunity and Heart Disease
B vitamins Elderly due to poor absorption Reduced Energy
Iron Young women Anaemia
Vitamin B12 Vegetarians Neurological Diseases – Forgetfulness

Do I need supplements?

True to their name supplements are extra. They are always an addition to a healthy diet and never a backup for a healthy diet. Do remember that unlike medicines, supplements can’t claim to cure, treat or prevent a disease.

And in 8 out of 10 cases they are not required. Still, people take them all the time. In this article, we will try to understand the effects of popular nutritional supplements like vitamin A, B-complex, Folic Acid, vitamin C, vitamin D and calcium on your overall health.

Vitamin A and Carotenoids

Carotenoids act as precursors to vitamin A.  Vitamin A is useful in preventing night blindness. It helps keep your skin healthy, prevents acne, builds immunity and helps heal gastrointestinal ulcers. They also act as antioxidants and researchers have found them helpful in warding off incidence of prostate and lung cancer.

But, do you need a supplement to get the daily dose of Vitamin A. The answer is NO. All you need is a quarter-cup of sweet potatoes or half of a medium-sized carrot or two cups of spinach to get your daily fix.

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and when you have too much of it through beta-carotene supplements it may increase the likelihood of developing lung cancer among smokers.


B-complex is a bunch of eight B-vitamins – B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12 and they play an important role in keeping us energetic.

B vitamins work as coenzymes and they are helpful in relieving symptoms of anxiety or depression. They help convert the food you eat into fuel so that you are brimming with energy throughout the day.  These vitamins are critical for your health.

It is hard to be deficient in B vitamins. Fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, eggs, and dairy offer different B vitamins, yet whenever you feel energy crunch, a B-complex capsule comes as a panacea! B-complex is water soluble, so your kidneys will flush out the excess except for B6, folate, and niacin.

B6 is required for 100 enzyme reactions during metabolism. It is found in meat, dairy, fruits (other than citrus) but taking a supplement for a long while could harm you.

Niacin occurs naturally in meat, eggs, fish and whole grain products and an excess could cause numbness, flushing of the skin, burning pain and sensitivity to light.

Vitamin B12 helps to make your DNA and red blood cells. It plays an important role in the functioning of the brain and the nervous system. Generally, vegetarian especially vegans suffer from Vitamin 12 deficiency as the main sources of Vitamin B12 are animal-based foods such as meat, dairy products, fish, and eggs. Since deficiency of Vitamin B12 can cause irreparable damage to the brain and central nervous system it is essential to take the supplement in right dosages to counter the deficiency.

Folic Acid

Folic Acid is another such B vitamin known as brain food. It is critical in the pre-conception and pregnancy stage and is vital for normal cell development in the babies.

Folic Acid occurs naturally in leafy green vegetables, organ meats, and beans as well as dark red and orange fruits and vegetables, like beets and cantaloupe.

Studies have shown that a daily intake of 400 micrograms of folate in early pregnancy may help prevent neural tube defects, like spina bifida. It may also help to prevent premature birth. Therefore during pregnancy, it is a good idea to take folic acid supplements. You need to consult the doctor about the right dosage for you.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an antioxidant and it is required for at least three hundred metabolic functions. Vitamin C gained its current popularity through the efforts of Linus Pauling who published a book in 1970 and recommended mega doses of vitamin C to reduce the length and severity of a common cold. The fact is that vitamin C does not prevent cold. It has been studied exhaustively and the effect was found doubtful.   

Vitamin C is founded in plentiful amounts in practically all fruits, vegetables that you eat. Orange juice is an excellent source of vitamin C as long as it is freshly squeezed.

Vitamin D and calcium

It’s hard to get deficient in vitamin D in a country like ours where the sun shines throughout the year. Still, vitamin D deficiency is rampant in Indians. Though vitamin D is widely known to build healthier bones, it is equally responsible for heart, brain and immune function. Young girls have higher calcium requirements as compared to older women. A healthy individual requires around 600IU per day. Older people may require 800 IU per day. 

Vitamin D is synthesized in the skin on exposure to sunshine and it is needed to absorb calcium for healthier bones.  10-15 minutes of time in sunlight is enough to give you your daily quota. 

Apart from dairy products, almonds, beans, lentils, and salmon are other good sources of calcium. Moreover, building healthier bones requires leading an active lifestyle. 

When it comes to older age group especially those suffering from osteoporosis Vitamin D along with calcium supplement is highly recommended as it reduces the risk of falls and fractures.    

Should you take vitamins and supplements?  – Guiding Principle

When it comes to supplements, ignore the marketing gimmick and treat it with caution. It cannot correct the repercussions of a wrong diet. Neither can they replace every nutrient found in food groups, you ignore.  Always remember, a bowl of steamed spinach will have healthy amounts of vitamins A, C, E, K and several other B vitamins and essential minerals including iron and calcium, along with dietary fiber, and disease-fighting—phytochemicals. Supplements won’t compensate for habits known to contribute to ill health, like smoking or a lack of exercise.

As a general rule, only those people who suffer from deficiency need to take vitamins and supplements. That too for short period of time. After deficiency is repleted, it is better to rely on natural foods for maintenance. Healthy people need not take supplements. The preventive effect of supplements is highly questionable.

Also, megadoses of supplements can cause trouble, including excessive bleeding and neurological problems. Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and E stay in the body and an excess can jeopardize your health. Smaller and daily dosages are generally better than one megadose.

Supplements are no substitute for exercise and a balanced diet, of course. Optimal health requires a wholesome lifestyle — particularly as people get older.