Vitamins and minerals are important substances in our body. They are necessary for normal function of cells, normal growth, bone growth, and many biologic processes that take place constantly in our bodies. In fact, there are well documented disease processes that take place in deficiencies, such as scurvy which can be associated with lack of vitamins C and lack of tissue healing, nerve abnormalities and cognitive issues associated with certain B vitamin deficiencies, weak bones with vitamin D deficiency, and the list could go on. But in our modern society with an overabundance of food, is it necessary to take dietary supplements?
Surprisingly, despite a seemingly endless supply of food, and even nutrient fortified foods like cereal, it is not uncommon to find that many Americans are actually deficient in many micronutrients and vitamins. A US national survey, NHANES 2007-2010, which surveyed 16,444 individuals four years and older, reported a high prevalence of inadequacies for multiple micronutrients. Specifically, 94.3% of the US population did not meet the daily requirement for vitamin D, 88.5% for vitamin E, 52.2% for magnesium, 44.1% for calcium, 43.0% for vitamin A, and 38.9% for vitamin C. Taken all together, deficiencies in these vitamins really prevent us from performing at our peak efficiency and may have subtle effects on numerous chemical and biological processes taking place in our bodies.
As an example, a recent study showed that individuals at the lowest levels of vitamin D were at higher risk for autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease, but this was lessened with vitamin D supplementation. It is also well known that low vitamin D levels cause abnormalities in our immune function, which explains why people with low vitamin D in the setting of COVID tend to have worse disease outcomes compared to individuals with normalized vitamin D levels. And keep in mind, our immune system is not only important for fighting infections, but also for keeping cell changes and cancer in check.
In the next few weeks, I will discuss some specific vitamins and their importance in our body. We must always remember that our health, prevention of disease, and longevity is not simply found in a bottle of prescription medication or a certain vitamin, but must be accompanied with proper nutrition, weight management, lifestyle changes, and exercise.