Based on Canadian Community Health Survey data from 2015, approximately 45 per cent of the general population are currently using a vitamin or supplement product, which includes up to 65 per cent of women and 42 per cent of men over the age of 50. The most common products are multivitamins, vitamin D, omega 3s, probiotics, and antioxidants.
Many individuals hold strong beliefs regarding the potential health benefits of vitamins and supplements, even though there are limited clinical studies to support their wide-spread use for otherwise healthy individuals.
When considering whether to start taking any vitamin or supplement products, some key questions to ask yourself are:
According to the most recent Canada Food Guide, most people do not need to take vitamins or supplements if they eat a variety of nutritious foods, except for some specific situations.
All daily multi-vitamins products contain at least three separate vitamins and/or minerals. Clinical evidence supports the use of multivitamins reinforced with folic acid to help women prepare for a healthy pregnancy by reducing the risk of neural-tube defects in newborns. By contrast, the use of multi-vitamins in general populations have not shown any proven benefit related to reducing death rates, cancer, or cardiovascular disease. Unless individuals have laboratory confirmed mineral or element deficiencies (e.g., iron), taking a daily multivitamin may improve some of these deficiencies but only if they contain appropriate levels of these ingredients.
Due to limited comparative data between brand-name and generic products, and the wide variation in product ingredients and doses, it is challenging to recommend any one specific product. My general recommendation is to select products with Natural Product Numbers (NPN’s) from reputable companies and look for the smallest tablet that is easy to swallow, and do not be afraid to choose economical options from generic brands.
Vitamin D is one of the most used individual vitamins primarily due to low cost, safety, and widespread beliefs regarding multiple health conditions. Depending on which laboratory reference levels are used, up to one-third of Canadians may have below normal vitamin D levels, which may have an impact on calcium levels and overall bone health. Vitamin D is typically found in low amounts in non-fortified food sources and is naturally produced by the body with exposure to the sun. It only takes 20 minutes of exposure to midday sun with arms or legs exposed to get your daily requirement of vitamin D. If you decide to take vitamin D supplements, the most common dose is normally 400-1000 International Units (IUs). Try to avoid larger single doses exceeding 100,000 IUs, which may increase the risk of falls and fractures in older individuals.
In my years of pharmacy practice, I’ve found that there are a variety of beliefs regarding the impact or benefits from using vitamin or supplement products. My primary focus is to ensure vitamin or supplement products are used for valid reasons, there are no potential side effects or interactions to monitor, and that they are an affordable option based on your individual circumstances.
The information provided in this article is for personal use, reference, and education only. ASEBP does not provide medical advice. Before starting any medication or product, you should always consult with your pharmacist, health care provider, or call Alberta Health Link at 811.
If you have ASEBP’s Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP), you can access four cost-free hours of health coaching each calendar year. Get support from registered dietitians based on your individual health goals.
If you have a Wellness Spending Account (WSA), you can claim natural health products, supplements, and herbal supplements/minerals supplements with a Natural Product Number (NPN) printed on the label. Examples of eligible items include prenatal vitamins, vitamin D, green supplements (athletic greens), and pre/post workout supplements. Find more information about eligible WSA expenses or contact a benefit specialist.