When do we need extra vitamins and minerals?
At certain times of life, or as a result of lifestyle factors, you may need extra vitamins and minerals, either from your diet or by taking supplements.
Vitamins and minerals: infancy to adolescence
The extra needs of babies, children, and adolescents are discussed on Food in the first year. Extra calcium is vital during these years to help build strong bones and protect against the bone disorder osteoporosis in later life.
Vitamins and minernals: adult needs
When girls and women have menstrual periods, they lose iron in the blood. They may need to eat iron-rich foods or take a supplement, especially if their periods are heavy, to reduce the risk of iron-deficiency anaemia.
During pregnancy, women have an increased need for vitamins B2, B12, C, and folate (which is also important for women planning to conceive). Some of these needs can be met through diet, but you could also take an ante-natal supplement to help meet increased needs for iron, folate, selenium, magnesium, iodine, and zinc during this time.
Mothers who are breast-feeding need extra vitamins A, B1, B2, and folate to enable them to produce enough breast milk. Extra vitamins C, D, and niacin are needed to replenish vitamins passed into breast milk. You will also need extra copper, zinc, and selenium (see the Vitamin and Mineral directories)
Men may have extra vitamin and mineral needs, depending on their activity level. For example, those involved in sport who tend to sweat a lot may need to replace sodium, potassium, and magnesium.
In addition, for the many peole who are following low-carbohydrate diets to lose weight, taking a multivitamin or a B-complex supplement is essential, since foods with carbohydrates contain important B vitamins.
Vitamins and minerals: the over-fifties
After the age of 50 (see The middle to later years of life), you may need to focus on foods rich in vitamins B6, B12, and folate because their absorption is reduced in older age. Extra calcium is vital to keep your bones strong, especially after the menopause (see Do you need to take supplements?).
Strict vegetarians will not get enough vitamins B12 and D, iron, and calcium if they do not eat fortified foods or take supplements. People who smoke may need extra vitamin C, which has the ability to neutralize the damaging free radicals that are created by inhaled smoke. Medication may interact with absorption of vitamins or minerals; if you are taking medication ask your GP about possible interactions.
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