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Do I take vitamin B, C, D? Is there also an E, F, G? We get to the bottom of the vitamin maze.

Maybe you’ve been told it your whole life - “make sure to take your multivitamin” so you just do it out of habit. Or maybe taking that little vitamin every morning just makes you feel like you're on the right track for the day. Either way, it’s harmless… right? 

Talking with Dr. Alissia Valentinis, Senior Medical Director and Caitlin Boudreau (RD), Lead Dietitian at TELUS Health MyCare we get to the bottom of multivitamins and single vitamin supplements. 

What’s in a multivitamin? 

Canadians take vitamins. In fact, nearly half of us do according to Stats Canada 2015 findings. Whether the vitamins are in pill form, chewable, dissolvable or tasty gummies you are certainly not alone to reach for your multivitamin in the morning. In general a multivitamin typically contains three things - water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins and minerals. 

  • Water-soluble vitamins: These vitamins pass in and out of the body easily. These can include vitamin C and the B vitamins: thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, biotin, folic acid, and B12.

  • Fat-soluble vitamins: These vitamins are stored in the body's cells and do not pass out of the body as easily as water-soluble vitamins do. Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K.

  • Minerals: These include calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc.

Should I be taking one? 

Generally speaking there’s no harm to taking a multivitamin and specific groups like those who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant should be taking prenatal vitamins. However, for the average person you don’t necessarily need one. When eating nutritious foods as recommended by Canada’s Food Guide you are likely already getting the required nutrients you need. Dr Valentinis says “Most patients do not need to take daily vitamins.  However, if you are not feeling well and especially if you're fatigued, there may be a vitamin or nutrient lacking in your diet.  Speak to your physician or nurse practitioner about getting some blood work to assess if you could benefit from a supplement." She also advocates for “eating the rainbow” and trying to eat a very colourful diet. It can help visually encourage us to get more vitamins and minerals into our diet. 

However, try as we might, sometimes we don’t follow these guidelines to a tee and our plate can look decidedly not colourful. And that’s okay, not every meal is going to be the perfect meal. Even people who have healthy eating habits find it hard to get all the fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods they need. A supplement can be a helpful tool to fill in the gaps. 

If I want to take a vitamin, which one do I take? 

Staring at the wall of supplements at the local pharmacy or grocery store is daunting. There’s so many letters, numbers and colourful bottles all claiming to do different things. Before you walk out of the store overwhelmed, here are a few things to consider. 

  1. Look for Natural Product Number (NPN) on the label. If it doesn’t contain one then it wasn’t approved by Health Canada. 

  2. Consider what foods you consume a lot of or not enough of. The multivitamin you take should follow the Recommended Dietary Allowance for each vitamin and mineral.

  3. Sometimes multivitamins are targeted for specific groups such as “for women” or “for 50+”. Breaking it down in general, vitamins for women tend to have more iron to account for periods (yay). Men’s vitamins are lower in iron. Senior formulas have more vitamin B12 and vitamin D. 

  4. In all instances when looking to add any vitamin or mineral into your regime talk to a healthcare professional to find the one that works best for you.

What about single vitamin or mineral supplements? 

A multivitamin provides a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals vs a single vitamin or mineral provides one. But sometimes one might be all you need. 

Osteoporosis Canada recommends routine vitamin D supplementation for Canadian adults year round. We can find a small amount of vitamin D in foods like: eggs (yolk), soft margarine, fatty fish, unsweetened lower fat milk or unsweetened fortified plant-based beverages. But the reality is Canadians aren’t getting enough vitamin D. 

“ A daily vitamin D3 supplement of at least 600 IUs should be part of every Canadian's routine, particularly during the non-summer months when we can't rely on those lovely rays of sunshine to provide us with vitamin D through our skin” - Bourdreau, RD

Are there any risks? 

The general rule that there can be too much of a good thing can apply to vitamins as well. Some people think that taking extra doses of vitamins beyond the recommended amounts will improve their health or keep them from getting sick.  However, there can be serious harm associated with taking too much of a vitamin or mineral.  For example, taking high doses of Vitamin C can lead to kidney stones and kidney damage.  Too high a dose of some other vitamins can cause liver damage. Remember when you talk to a health professional and they ask you “are you taking any medications” vitamins counts. Make sure to disclose with your healthcare provider.

The registered dietitians on the TELUS Health MyCare app1 are experts in analysing what you are eating today, where there could be gaps and what supplements, if any, could help fill the gaps. They can also analyse what vitamins you are currently taking today to see if you should stop, modify or continue. Book an appointment in the app today. 

Users must be 16 years or older to access dietitian appointments. Dietitian appointments are available for AB, BC, ON and SK residents. Dietitian appointments require additional payment of $120. Any payments for appointments must be paid using a valid credit card. An in-app receipt will be provided for you to claim for reimbursement if applicable.