Supplements and Vitamins: Sorting out Vital Requirements

Key Takeaways

1. Supplements and vitamins are not a substitute for a balanced and healthy diet.

2. Incorporating a daily multivitamin as a healthy supplement can complement a well-rounded diet, ensuring optimal intake of essential nutrients for overall well-being.

3. Consuming vitamins and minerals in large doses in the form of supplements can have adverse health effects, potentially leading to toxicity.

4. Consult with a doctor before incorporating supplements and vitamins into your routine.


Ensuring a well-rounded diet is essential for meeting our nutritional needs, including fibre, vitamins and minerals. However, certain life stages or circumstances may pose challenges in obtaining all essential nutrients solely through food as the demand for specific nutrients increases. For example, recent data suggests that changing food habits and an indoor lifestyle have led to 3 out of 4 Indians suffering from vitamin D deficiency. Similarly, according to statistics from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), 52% of pregnant women in India suffer from anaemia. In such cases, supplements and vitamins may be necessary to maintain optimal health.

Food and Dietary Supplement Benefits

A supplement, also known as a nutritional supplement, is a product consumed orally that typically contains various dietary ingredients.  Some of the common dietary supplements include

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals 
  • Fish oil or omega-3 fatty acids
  • Melatonin
  • Antioxidants
  • Fibre
  • Probiotics 

Food and Dietary supplements are intended to complement your diet, ensuring you receive adequate nutrients. Your doctor may recommend vitamins and supplements for certain health conditions for optimal body functioning and avoiding health complications associated with their deficiencies. Supplements and vitamins are most commonly recommended in

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • Excessive smoking, alcohol, or drug use
  • Crash dieters and those on strict diets/vegan diet
  • Elderly individuals, especially if disabled or chronically ill
  • Women with heavy periods
  • People with food allergies
  • Those with malabsorption problems (e.g., diarrhoea, coeliac disease, cystic fibrosis, or pancreatitis)
  • Infants
  • Certain deficiencies and health conditions such as osteoporosis, anaemia, etc

Importance of Vitamins, Minerals and Other Key Nutrients in The Body

Vitamins and minerals are crucial in small amounts for diverse metabolic functions. The below table provides a concise overview of the key micronutrients and their role in our body.

Vitamin A (Retinol) 
Good vision, growth and development, immune function, antioxidant
Night blindness, dry eyes, delayed growth, vision loss and blindness 
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) 
Breaks down food to release energy, healthy nervous system, muscle contraction 
Exhaustion, confusion, difficulties in maintaining balance, lack of concentration, muscle weakness 
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) 
Keeps skin, nervous system, and eyes healthy, releases energy from food 
Scratchy eyes, conjunctivitis, itchy mucous membranes such as nose, mouth, and throat, and cracked lips 
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) 
Helps lower cholesterol and other fats in the blood, and keeps the nervous system, digestive system and skin healthy.
Severe deficiency may lead to pellagra, resulting in skin, digestive, and nervous system issues 
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) 
A potent antioxidant, Supports the metabolism and formation of good cholesterol 
Insomnia, fatigue, irritability, disturbed sleep, stomach cramps, upper respiratory infections. 
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) 
Vital for normal brain development and for keeping the nervous system and immune system healthy.
Depression, cracked skin, weakened immunity, rashes, and chronic inflammation

Vitamin B7 (Biotin) 

Supports metabolism of fats, carbohydrates, and protein, keeps skin, hair, eyes, and nervous system healthy 
Skin rashes, brittle nails, hair thinning and loss, fatigue, mood changes 
Vitamin B9
(Folic Acid) 
Production of DNA and RNA, Produce red blood cells, an important vitamin during early pregnancy 
Headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, irritability, trouble concentrating, heart palpitations
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) 
Form red blood cells and DNA, important for function and development of brain and nerve cells 
Anaemia, fatigue, memory problems, gastrointestinal issues, tingling numbness in hands and foot, weight loss 
Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid) 
Heals wounds, maintains healthy skin, hair, bones, blood vessels, cartilage, supports the immune system, antioxidant
Anaemia, scurvy, poor immunity, easy bruising, bleeding gums
Vitamin D (Calciferol) 
Development of strong bones, reduces inflammation and helps control infections. 
Rickets, osteomalacia, muscle weakness and spasms, mood changes
Vitamin E (Tocopherol) 
Retinopathy (impaired vision), impaired reflexes and coordination, nerve and muscle damage, decreased immune function 
Vitamin K (Phytonadione) 
Blood clotting, building bones 
High risk of bleeding, osteoporosis

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Essential vitamins
Image credit: Freepik | Importance of Vitamins

Produce red blood cells, oxygen transport and energy production
Anaemia, restless legs syndrome, heart problems, pregnancy complications, and developmental delays in children 
Building and maintain good bone and teeth health, clotting blood
Osteoporosis and rickets, risk of falls and fractures
Supports muscle and nerve function, bone health, and blood sugar levels
Low appetite, Muscle cramps, tremors, fatigue, irregular heartbeat
Immune function and wound healing, breakdown of carbohydrates, antioxidant
Weak immunity, slow wound healing, loss of appetite
Regulates fluid balance, muscle contractions, nerve and heart function
Hypokalaemia, muscle weakness, fatigue, irregular heartbeat
Helps keep blood sugar levels normal
Weight loss, impaired coordination, confusion, and reduced response to glucose in the blood, increasing the risk of diabetes.

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Other Nutrients

Besides the nutrients mentioned previously, there are a few additional nutrients necessary for optimal bodily function and are commonly available as supplements.

Fish oil and Omega-3 fatty acids
Regulate blood pressure, maintain healthy body weight, regulate immune function, support a positive mood, and promote muscle and joint health
Fatigue, sleeping disorder, skin, hair and nail problems, mood swings, difficulty concentrating
Important for maintaining gut health
Supports healthy immune function, inflammation regulation, proper brain health, and weight management
Helps cut cholesterol, control blood sugar, and improve digestion
Constipation, some cancers of the bowel, irritable bowel syndrome
Fight free radicals in the body
Diabetes, heart disease, cancer

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Fish oil capsules
Image credit: Freepik | Fish oil capsules

Also read: Fish Oil: Will It Actually Improve Your Heart Health?

Why should you seek your doctor’s advice before taking supplements and vitamins?

  • Using supplements and vitamins is advisable as a short-term strategy. Prolonged use of high-dose supplements can result in symptoms of toxicity. For example,some text
    • Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble and tend to accumulate in the body. Taking doses higher than recommended may result in toxicity. 
    • Large doses of Vitamin C can cause diarrhoea.
    • Excessive consumption of fish oil in very high doses may contribute to reduced blood clotting.
  • In the case of a healthy adult, supplement intake is best kept close to the Recommended Daily Intake. 
  • Unless advised by a doctor, it is generally not recommended to take high-dose supplements.

How to find high-quality supplements?

  • Look for reputable brands with a history of reliable products
  • Avoid artificial additives
  • Check for third-party certifications
  • Examine the ingredient list for appropriate forms and doses
  • Evaluate customer reviews
  • Seek advice from a doctor or registered dietitian

How can you tell if your body is absorbing supplements?

You can determine supplement absorption by directly measuring nutrient levels in the blood before and after supplementation or indirectly by observing if there has been an improvement in symptoms after supplementation.  


1. How do I know what vitamins to take?

Determining which vitamins to take depends on factors such as age, gender, health status, dietary habits, and lifestyle. Consulting a doctor or a registered dietitian can help assess your specific needs and recommend the best supplements based on individual requirements and goals.

2. What vitamins/supplements do you need on a vegan or vegetarian diet?

Food and dietary supplements rich in Vitamin B12, iron, calcium, Vitamin D, Iodine, Zinc, vitamin K, and Omega-3 fatty acids are to be considered for a vegan diet.

3. What vitamins and supplements do you need on a keto diet?

The top supplements recommended for a keto diet include magnesium, medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, digestive enzymes, electrolytes, fibre, and L-theanine (an amino acid- found in green or black tea).

4. What supplements do you need to build muscle?

Supplements like creatine, protein supplements, Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), beta-alanine, Beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate (HMB), and weight gainers can aid muscle growth when combined with proper diet and exercise.

5. What vitamins/supplements do you need to lose weight?

The best supplements to enhance metabolism and aid weight loss include fibre, vitamin B group, vitamin D, iron, magnesium, and green tea extract.

6. What are the essential supplements for women, particularly during pregnancy?

Some of the essential supplements in pregnancy include folic acid, Calcium, Vitamin D, Iodine and iron.

7. What supplements should not be taken together?

While many supplements can be taken together without issue, some combinations may interfere with each other's absorption or effectiveness. Here are a few examples of supplements that should be approached with caution when taken together:

  • Zinc can interfere with the absorption of iron.
  • Calcium supplements can impact the absorption of minerals like zinc, magnesium, and iron, crucial for bone health.
  • Extremely high doses of vitamin D may decrease magnesium levels.

8. Which vitamins should not be taken together?

  • Combining vitamin C and B12 supplements may reduce B12 absorption.
  • Vitamin D with vitamin B12 or vitamin C.


In conclusion, while supplements and vitamins can play a crucial role in filling nutritional gaps in our diets, they should not substitute for a balanced diet and regular exercise. Consulting with healthcare professionals before incorporating supplements into your daily regimen ensures personalized recommendations and minimizes potential health risks. By integrating supplements and vitamins thoughtfully into your diet, you can optimize your nutritional intake and promote well-being effectively.

For continued wellness support, we suggest downloading our Aware app, an invaluable ally in your journey towards a healthy lifestyle. By remaining informed and proactive, you can actively enhance your overall well-being.

Also read: Your daily dose of vitamin E: What you need to know

About the Author

Dr. Satish Madiraju, a renowned cardiologist is passionate about consumer heart health and is on a mission to prevent a million heart attacks. He shares his expertise not only on heart health but also on leadership, digital health, and improving patient experience.
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