When there is clear evidence of a vitamin deficiency, treatment decisions are generally easy. But when it comes to routine use of vitamin supplements, experts have come to different conclusions. And people often ignore expert recommendations anyway, taking vitamins that no medical provider has suggested and not bothering to take ones that may have been suggested as a preventive measure.
There is sound scientific evidence to support the regular use of certain vitamins by:
- Pregnant women — A daily prenatal vitamin is part of routine obstetric care. Probably the most important component is folic acid (or folate), which can markedly reduce the risk of certain birth defects (including neural tube defects). In fact, women of child-bearing age who might become pregnant are encouraged to take folic acid even before pregnancy.
- Perimenopausal women — Vitamin D (along with calcium) is recommended to prevent osteoporosis and other bone disease.
- People with cardiovascular disease — Folic acid (yes, again!) is recommended, especially for those with elevated homocysteine levels.
- Vegetarians — A multivitamin is recommended because certain vitamins, such as B12, are available only from animal sources. Strict vegans are particularly at risk. Riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin D and vitamin A are also concerns for those avoiding meat or animal products. One daily multivitamin will provide enough supplementation for all of them.
- Smokers and heavy alcohol drinkers — Extra vitamin C and folic acid may reduce the risk of disease for people who smoke and drink too much. In addition, people who drink excess alcohol are more prone to thiamin (vitamin B1), pyridoxine (vitamin B6) and riboflavin deficiencies. A daily multivitamin provides inexpensive nutritional insurance.
- The elderly — Because poor nutrition is common in this group, especially those who are sick and frail, vitamin deficiency is also common. A multivitamin is often recommended to prevent complications from deficiencies in vitamin D and B vitamins.