Should you take nutritional supplements?

For millions of Canadians, taking nutritional supplements is an everyday practice and hardly just among muscle builders and weekend warriors. The practice has become increasingly mainstream.

According to Statistics Canada’s Health Facts Sheets, 45.6 per cent of Canadians aged one year and older – about 15.7 million people – used at least one nutritional supplement in 2015. Nutritional supplement use was more common among those aged 19 and over (47.3 per cent) than among children and youth (38.5 per cent). Women were more likely than men to take nutritional supplements, with the most notable difference among those aged 51 to 70 years, where 65.1 per cent of women used supplements compared with 42.5 per cent of men.

If you made a New Year’s resolution related to nutrition, you may be wondering if you should take nutritional supplements. According to Dietitians of Canada, most healthy adults can satisfy their vitamin and mineral needs by following Canada’s Food Guide. But there are exceptions.

Women during childbearing years: Pregnant women should take a multivitamin that includes folic acid and iron. Folic acid protects against birth defects which can occur during the first few months of pregnancy and it is also beneficial to start taking it prior to getting pregnant.

Men and women aged 50 years and older. This group is at increased risk of osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones become fragile and more susceptible to fractures. Vitamin D supplementation is needed to strengthen their bones as it increases the absorption of Calcium in our body. They also need B12 supplementation for the production of red blood cells and proper nerve functioning, as with age, vitamin B12 absorption declines.

Vegetarians: The main sources of Vitamin B12 include meat, poultry, fish and dairies. If you are vegan or vegetarian and you are not following a proper diet that will meet all your nutritional needs, you will require Vitamin B12 supplementation. You might also need iron supplementation as the iron coming from plant sources is not absorbed in the body as well as the iron coming from animal sources.

Athletes. In most cases, good training, a healthy and balanced diet – together with enough rest – will help your performance more than any supplement, Dietitians of Canada says, but it points to evidence suggesting three popular sports supplements work:

• Creatine: It can increase lean muscle and improve performance in sports that use intense short bursts of energy, such as sprinting, weightlifting or sprint cycling.
• Caffeine: It stimulates your central nervous system and may make exercise feel easier, increase endurance or delay tiredness, especially when you exercise intensely
• Protein: Taking this shortly after intense exercise – the recovery phase – can help build muscle and repair muscle damage.

Other. You may require vitamin or mineral supplements for medical conditions such as gastrointestinal malabsorption, iron-deficiency anemia, diseases of the gallbladder, liver, or stomach.

“There are numerous things to consider before taking nutritional supplements, including a potential negative interaction between supplements and other medications you’re taking,” said Healthy Planet Canada spokesperson Syed Rizvi. For example, vitamin K will interact with the efficiency of anticoagulant medications taken to prevent blood clotting and could have a negative effect. It’s important to talk to your doctor, health-care practitioner or dietitian.

You’ll also want to consider the form of the supplement. It comes in many forms, such as powder, liquid, capsules and soft gels. Some people cannot swallow properly so may prefer a liquid supplement. You also need to know how much is good for you. The choice of the supplement dosage depends on the reason an individual is taking the supplement for, the age, the gender and the other supplements or medications a person is taking.

When deciding whether to take nutritional supplements, it’s important to follow the advice of your physician and registered dietitian, Dietitians of Canada reminds. To learn more about nutrition, visit Dietitians of Canada at or

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