Do I need a Dietary Supplement?

One day a friend of mine called me with a query. ‘I feel tired most of the time and the Doctor has suggested that I should take a multivitamin. Now I am in a fix. Should I? Do I really need to take dietary supplements?’

Posting a detailed account of the subject…

A supplement literally means something added to complete a thing or make up for a deficiency. Dietary supplement thus means a substance which when added to diet helps in making up the deficiency in the diet. A supplement provides added insurance that you are getting an adequate intake of necessary vitamins and other micro-nutrients.

Health care providers have had mixed views on the inclusion of dietary supplements in the daily diet. Yes, we do compensate usage and losses of nutrients through diet but there are certain ages and physiological conditions which sincerely get benefited by including dietary supplements in their diet.

Who all need dietary supplements?

1. Women may need extra calcium all through their life and especially post-menopause. Calcium can be added in diet using milk and milk products, ragi, sesame, and from over-the-counter calcium in the form of calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Calcium supplements are best absorbed when taken with meals, at a dose of 500 mg once or two times a day depending on the requirement.

2. Women who bleed excessively during menstruation may need to take iron or iron and folic acid supplements to meet the daily recommendation. Pregnant and lactating women are usually given supplements by their doctors to meet their increased needs for iron, calcium and other nutrients.

3. Women planning pregnancy should take a folic acid supplement prior to conception. A recent study led by Radek Bukowski, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Texas, suggests that women who took folic acid for one year prior to pregnancy reduced their risk of delivering a premature baby by 50 to 70 per cent apart from preventing the occurrence of other congenital (present from birth) malformations. Because pregnancy is often unplanned, ideally a female should start taking folic acid when she becomes sexually active. A standard folic acid supplement contains a sufficient amount of folic acid i.e., 400 micrograms.

4. Teenagers often have irregular eating habits and may not eat a balanced diet. A multivitamin with minerals can help fill in the nutritional gaps. Some teenage girls also need daily calcium and iron supplement.

5. Vegans (people who abstain from milk and dairy products apart from egg and flesh foods) are advised to take iron and B12 daily. Iron and B12 deficiency occurs frequently in strict vegetarians. Vegetarian sources of iron have a low absorption rate as compared to non-veg sources whereas Vitamin B12 is not found in foods of plant origin which might lead to their deficiencies.

6. Dieters and people who avoid entire food groups (like grains, etc.) are more likely to have vitamin and mineral deficiencies. A daily multivitamin with minerals can be taken in consultation with a physician.

7. People with deficiency diseases or malabsorption disorders due to some allergies or intolerances (e.g. people allergic to wheat or gluten or intolerant to lactose) may need multivitamins. Similarly, people taking prescription medications that interfere with the absorption of nutrients may also need higher dose supplements.

The kind of diet we are into nowadays (packaged, ready to eat, convenience foods) is seriously deficient in micronutrients. But the author doesn’t encourage people to make dietary supplement their way of life. Ask yourself a question am I taking 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily? If yes no need to go for supplements. If no try to include fruits and veggies in your daily diet. Not possible? Ask a doctor and only then go for dietary supplements.


  1. Vibhuti Sharma

    Very Useful and Wholesome information to have handy. It is indeed a dilemma but as a dieter, I have just taken a supplement because we do tend to avoid this and that and land up with deficiencies.


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