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Most People Actually Don't Have to Take Any Vitamins. Here's Who Should

Sometimes it's hard to know which vitamins you're missing. Here's how to tell.

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Our vitamin needs evolve throughout our lives, from the period of rapid growth in childhood to the point when our bodies stop absorbing and producing certain nutrients as we age. There are different times when we're more vulnerable to deficiencies. 

Many of us have been taking vitamins our whole lives -- from the chalky Flintstone tablets to something a little more grown up, like a gummy vitamin. Most people typically get all the vitamins and minerals they need from their diet, but there are times when food isn't enough and vitamin supplements are necessary to help fill the gaps.

Determining when to start and how many vitamins to take can be difficult. Let's dig into vitamins recommendations for each age group.

What are vitamins? Why are they important?

Our bodies need vitamins for development and proper functioning. Most of the vitamins our bodies depend on come from our food. That means that the average American won't need to take vitamin supplements if they eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, proteins and whole grains. 

However, that's not always the case. There are times when vitamin or mineral supplements are necessary. Dietary limitations or natural deficiencies can keep you from getting enough of certain vitamins. Iron, vitamin D, B12 and calcium are among the most common vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Unless you take an at-home test or get a blood analysis from your doctor, you don't know if you lack vitamins, making it harder to know when to start taking a supplement.

Read more: Best Vitamin Subscription

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Common symptoms of deficiency by vitamin and mineral

Being "vitamin deficient" is a broad term. In many cases, you may be lacking just one vitamin. Below you'll find the 13 essential vitamins and the common deficiency symptoms for each.  

Vitamin A: Gastrointestinal diseases like Celiac disease or cirrhosis of the liver can impact the body's ability to absorb vitamin A as it should. The most common symptoms of a vitamin A deficiency include frequent infections, skin irritation, night blindness or hazy vision. 

Vitamin C: Typically, vitamin C deficiency is uncommon in developed countries. However, it does affect 7.1% of US adults. Vitamin C is crucial for collagen production in our bodies; its lack is linked to damaged skin and slow healing wounds. Easy bruising is one of the most common warning signs for this deficiency.

Vitamin D: Our bodies synthesize sunlight into vitamin D. It's essential for our immune health and has been linked to a lower risk of infection of COVID-19. A vitamin D deficiency can result in frequent illness, lower bone metabolism and muscle pain.  

Vitamin E: Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant that protects your cells from damage. While it is rare in healthy people, a vitamin E deficiency contributes to nerve and muscle damage that can cause vision impairments or loss of feeling in your arms or legs.

Vitamin K: Vitamin K is essential for blood coagulation and cardiovascular health. It also plays a role in bone development. If you are deficient, you're at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, bleeding issues and lower bone strength. Vitamin K deficiency is generally rare in adults. Babies are at risk for vitamin K deficiency bleeding, or VKDB, though.

B Vitamins: There are eight B vitamins -- thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, biotin (B7), folate and folic acid and vitamin B12. Older adults and pregnant women tend to be more at risk for vitamin B deficiencies. Symptoms can include things like anemia, fatigue or weakness. 

Vitamin needs by age group

The vitamins our bodies need to grow and function change throughout our lives. As we age, our bodies become less effective at absorbing or producing certain vitamins. Below you can find nutritional needs by age group.

Read more: Best Multivitamins

Babies and children

Baby formula is fortified with vitamins, so you do not need to worry about additional supplements if they have more than 500 milliliters of formula a day. In the case of vitamin D, breastfed babies do need an additional source. The Americans and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that babies who are breastfed also have a supplement of 400 international units, or IU, of vitamin D each day. Vitamin D is not only essential for bone development, but it also prevents rickets

Childhood is a time of significant physical growth and extreme cognitive development. The US government recommends supplements including vitamin A, C and D daily for children aged 6 months to 5 years old. 

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Adolescents and teens

With increased growth and metabolism, the nutritional needs of adolescents and teens increase. Generally, the daily recommendation for kids aged 9 to 18 is at least 1,300 mg of calcium, 1.8 to 2.4 micrograms of B vitamins and 11 IU of vitamin E. The average teen can get their daily requirement from a healthy diet. 

The Institute of Medicine's Food and Nutrition Board provides reference points for healthy children and adults. Remember, these numbers are based on averages. You should talk to your doctor if you suspect that your teen is experiencing a vitamin deficiency.

Adults

The National Institutes of Health suggests that the average adult needs around 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day to maintain bone density through adulthood. A supplement may be necessary during the fall and winter months when you cannot get an adequate amount of vitamin D from the sun. It's hard to get enough vitamin D from your diet. 

Women and those breastfeeding are the most likely to have nutrient deficiencies when compared to other groups. Pregnancy shifts the nutritional needs of women -- more macronutrients and micronutrients are required. The CDC advises pregnant women to take 400 micrograms of folic acid each day to help prevent potential congenital disabilities. 

Breastfeeding mothers have to produce enough nutrients to provide their children with what they need. As a result, the recommended vitamin A intake nearly doubles when breastfeeding to roughly 1,300 milligrams a day

Elders

Parts of the elderly population are susceptible to vitamin deficiencies due to concerns related to trouble chewing or medical issues. In addition, as we age, our bodies naturally absorb less vitamin B12 from the foods we eat. Up to 43% of older adults have a B12 deficiency. People over 50 should take a vitamin B12 supplement or integrate fortified foods into their diets. Concentrated B12 shots are also available.

Calcium is another nutrient that our gut absorbs less as we age, which may lead to weak bones or frequent fractures. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that adults over 70 intake 1,200 mg of calcium each day. 

In elders, vitamin deficiencies may mount on top of each other. A lack of calcium in the body is related to a vitamin D deficiency found in older adults as our bodies are less effective at producing it. Our bodies need vitamin D to absorb calcium.

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Too long, didn't read?

Unless you lack certain vitamins, you probably don't need to take vitamins regularly, with the caveat that you are maintaining a well-balanced diet. Vitamins have benefits, but they are not a shortcut to a healthy lifestyle. Vitamins are just a piece of the puzzle used in combination with a healthy diet and regular exercise. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.