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Everything You Need to Know About Vitamins and Dietary Supplements

Photo By: Matt Rourke/AP

It’s winter. Time to say goodbye to the sun.

Some of us have heard that vitamin D improves your mood. But, before you start cramming pills down your throat to end winter’s gloom, there are some things you should consider. Vitamins and dietary supplements are not always what they seem.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, over one-half of the U.S. population takes vitamins or dietary supplements.

Before you buy these often expensive products, ask yourself: Why are you taking these vitamins or supplements? Do you really need them? Are there any side effects?

Be wary of any supplements you purchase. Supplements are artificial substances that are marketed to produce health benefits on the body. But, unlike vitamins, most supplements are not regulated by any governmental body, such as the Food and Drug Administration. Many of these supplements do not even list the ingredients they contain on the label.

However, vitamins and minerals are much safer, because they are ingredients that already occur naturally in the body. They are necessary nutrients for the body to function properly. Used the right way, vitamins can greatly improve the way that your body functions.

Bryan Yonka, an athletic trainer at Loyola University Chicago, helps by giving us useful information we need to improve our lives with vitamins.

Natural Vitamins Found in Food vs. Man-Made Vitamins

Almost all foods have natural vitamins in them. But these vitamins have a much different reaction on the body than synthetic vitamins do. According to Yonka, “Naturally occurring vitamins are better for you, because they are already found in the body. There is nothing artificial about them.”

Pairing your vitamins with food makes the vitamin more easily absorbed. It is important to eat foods that are high in vitamin content as well as take synthetic vitamins, or capsules. “The word ‘supplement’ simply means that you should supplement your diet with these vitamins, not replace it,” says Yonka.

The Vitamins That People Lack Most

Some of the most common vitamin and mineral deficiencies that exist are those of vitamin D and calcium. The reason for this, Yonka says, is because “Our generation does not regularly drink milk or any foods containing these nutrients. They prefer sugar and carbonation.”

What’s the Deal with Vitamin D?

Vitamin D. Many of us have heard that we need it. But how does our body receive vitamin D, and do how much do we need?

Yonka says, you should, “Get as much natural vitamin D as you can.” Our bodies receive the vitamin from direct sunlight. Unfortunately, wearing sunscreen deflects most of the vitamin that would be in our system. This is when you supplement your diet with both synthetic and natural vitamin D.

Vitamin D is essentially crucial in winter months when the sun is scarce. More vitamin D will improve your overall mood, vitality and competency when performing physical activity.

Take a B-12 Shot. Why Not?

We see it everywhere. From 5 Hour Energy’s to Monster’s. But what is B-12? Do we need it as much as companies make it seem?

B-12 actually converts glucose into active energy, which keeps you awake, vibrant, and improves your overall mood. Companies often use B-12 as a marketing device, but do not let that deter you entirely. Get an adequate amount of B-12, which according to the Food and Drug Administration is around 6 micrograms (mcg) per day.

There may be an extreme amount in certain foods or drinks, but don’t worry. It is water soluble, which means if your body has too much of it, it will dispose of it.

The Big 4

1. Calcium

It is the most abundant mineral in the body, and therefore one of the most important. Calcium is required for vascular contraction and muscle function.

2. Vitamin D

It is so hard to get vitamin D, because it is found in so few of foods. It is extremely important to supplement your diet with vitamin D.

“Vitamin D helps calcium get absorbed into the body. It is very important in bone growth and stability,” says Yonka.

Yonka also says that vitamin D also serves to help the brain send and receive messages, by producing an increased amount of serotonin. “When the brain can communicate with the body better, your overall mood increases.”

3. Iodine

It’s in almost all kinds of table salt. Iodine is needed to replace thyroid hormones, which in turn help speed up your metabolism. Iodine deficiencies can also lead to a swelling of the thyroid gland, resulting in goiters. People who are deficient in iodine are those who typically avoid eating dairy, seafood, or iodized salt.

4. Magnesium

According to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, about 50% of magnesium is found in bone. Magnesium helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps heart rhythm steady, and supports a healthy immune system. It also helps to keep bones strong. Green vegetables, like spinach, are good sources of magnesium.

For more information on vitamins or dietary supplements, make sure to consult your physician or at least consult someone at your local vitamin store.

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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.