Most of us are no strangers to a vitamin aisle. You might be aware of the general idea of vitamins, and the poster boys like vitamin C and iron, but not quite understand what these vitamins actually do, or what other supplements you should be thinking about adding into your mix.
Most vitamins can be found in a healthy, balanced diet (and with plenty of sunlight in the case of vitamin D!). However, in some cases, dietary preferences or lifestyles may mean you don’t get quite enough and need to turn to supplements to reach your recommended daily intake. There’s zero shame in needing help to be healthy, and vitamin use, alongside a healthy diet and good exercise habits, can help keep you in great physical health!
Which vitamins are good for which problems?
Different vitamins will bring different benefits, and some will help with more than one aspect of your health and well-being. As a very quick summary (with some more detail further down), common vitamins used to tackle health concerns are;
Bone health – Calcium, Vitamin D, Magnesium,
Immunity – Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Selenium,
Energy – Vitamin B12, Iron, Magnesium,
Hair, Skin and Nails – Biotin, Selenium, and Zinc.
But how should you go about juggling different vitamins and supplements, and not overdoing it?
How to read the label on a vitamin bottle
As with prescribed medication, it’s important to read the label and dosage recommendations before taking any vitamin or food supplement. You should do this because;
- Different brands and products will have different strengths per tablet,
- The vitamin may be incompatible with other medication you are taking,
- Dosage varies for different genders, sizes, and ages,
- Additional vitamins may also be present, meaning you could end up taking more of something than you should be.
Vitamins and supplements will usually have small amounts of additional vitamins, other than the one on the label. For example, a vitamin B12 tablet may also have traces of vitamin C or D. For this reason, you will need to know the total vitamin dosage you are taking across all your supplements.
Vitamin strength is measured in either milligrams (mg) or micrograms (μg). A milligram is 1,000th of a gram and a microgram is 1,000,000th of a gram. You may have a bottle with a mixture of milli and microgram measurements – this will be due to the vitamins measured in micrograms having a very small presence. To convert these measurements to milligrams, you’ll just need to shift the figures backwards by three decimal places.
For example, a product with 75 micrograms of vitamin B12 would have 0.075 milligrams.
How much of each vitamin should I take?
The recommended dosage for each vitamin will vary, but this table reviews the recommended daily dosage for an average adult. Be mindful, that many of these vitamins can also be found in foods and these figures absolutely should not be aimed for with supplements alone!
|What it’s used for
|Recommended Daily Dosage
|Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
|Supports healthy skin, hair and nails.
35μg if breastfeeding
|This should be easy to acquire through diet, but is often included in healthy hair and nail tablets/gummies. Taking in up to 0.9mg is not likely to be harmful.
|Supporting a healthy nervous system and energy.
|B12 is found naturally in meat, fish and dairy. Anyone following a vegan (or vegetarian) diet will need to take supplements. Taking 2mg or less per day in supplements is unlikely to be harmful.
|Immune system support and wound-healing
|Can be easily achieved through a diet including fruits and veggies. Too much per day (1,000mg) will cause stomach complaints!
|For healthy bones and teeth, blood clotting, and regulating muscle contractions.
|Calcium can be found in dairy and leafy green vegetables (excluding spinach), so isn’t excluded from any diets. Too much (more than 1,500mg daily), can lead to painful stomach complaints.
|For healthy bones and teeth.
|Vitamin D comes from sunlight directly hitting your skin. You should get enough during the summer months, but may want to supplement during winter, if you spend a lot of time inside, or if you wear full body coverings.
|Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)
|Helps form healthy red blood cells and reduce risks of birth defects.
400μg if you are pregnant (up to 12 weeks) or trying to get pregnant.
|Usually this can be achieved from food, but doctors recommend supplements be used in pregnancy. Too much B9 (more than 1mg) can mask Vitamin B12 deficiency.
|Energy, immune system support, growth, and blood circulation.
|8.7mg if you don’t menstruate
14.9mg if you menstruate
|High doses (more than 20mg) will have unpleasant side effects and can even be fatal.
|Bone health and energy.
|300mg for men*
270mg for women*
|Taking more than 400mg per day can cause stomach upsets.
|Brain function and heart health.
|This is mainly needed if you don’t eat two portions of oily fish per week.
|Immune system, reproductive health, and cell regeneration.
|75μg for men*
60μg for women*
|This is often found in hair growth supplements, however, too much selenium can cause hair loss. Taking 350μg or less per day is unlikely to cause harm.
|Cell regeneration, wound healing, and processing carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
|9.5mg for men*
7mg for women*
|Too much zinc (more than 25mg per day in supplements) can interfere with natural copper absorption, leading to anaemia and bone weakness.
*I have used gender-inclusive language where possible but, in some cases, recommendations have been made on sex assigned at birth. If your gender identity differs from what you were assigned at birth, speak with your GP for accurate guidance.
Can I just take a multivitamin?
There are so many great options for multivitamins on the market, and they can be a strong option for anyone without any particular health concerns. The main drawback of relying on a multivitamin is you can’t personalise your approach to supplements quite as easily, and may not be getting enough of a vitamin you are particularly deficient in.
A big benefit of taking multivitamins is that you will be taking just one tablet or gummy per day, making the habit easier to build and more cost-effective. If you don’t have any concerns about your energy levels, immune system, joint health, or any other part of your wellbeing, a multivitamin will do the trick!
All advice here is based on the average human, and common conditions or exceptions. Before taking any vitamins or supplements, you should consult your GP or a medical professional for the best advice, tailored to your medical history and situation.