Who needs vitamin/mineral supplements?

David B. Agus, MD
Hematology & Oncology

Not everyone needs vitamins -- in fact, sometimes they can even be harmful. In this video, cancer specialist and Author Dr. David Agus discusses the groups of people who should consider a vitamin/mineral supplement.


Supplements are useful for people who cannot meet their nutrient needs through a regular, varied diet. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, among those who may benefit from taking a dietary supplement are:

  • Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant, as they need to consume adequate amounts of folic acid to prevent certain birth defects
  • Pregnant and lactating women who can’t meet their nutrient needs with food
  • Older individuals, who need adequate amounts of vitamin D and synthetic vitamin B12
  • Individuals who do not drink enough milk and/or do not have adequate sun exposure to meet their vitamin D needs
  • Individuals on low-calorie diets that limit the amount of vitamins and minerals they can consume through food
  • Strict vegetarians, who have limited dietary options for vitamins B12 and D and other nutrients
  • Individuals with food allergies or lactose intolerance that limit food choices
  • Individuals who abuse alcohol, have a poor appetite, have medical conditions such as intestinal disorders, or are taking medications that may increase their need of certain vitamins
  • Individuals who are food insecure and those who are eliminating food groups from their diet
  • Infants who are breast-fed should receive 400 IU of vitamin D daily until they are consuming at least 1 quart of formula daily. Children age one and older should receive 400 IU of vitamin D daily if they consume less than one quart of milk per day. Adolescents who consume less than 400 IU of vitamin D daily from their diet would also benefit from a supplement.
Glowing Mature Woman
People who do not eat a variety of foods every day may need vitamin/mineral supplements to fill their nutritional gaps.

A daily multivitamin or vitamin and mineral supplement is helpful for those who:
  • follow a special diet (e.g., a lactose-free, vegan, or vegetarian diet)
  • have a specific condition for which a specific nutrient remedies the problem. For example, a doctor may prescribe iron supplements to a person with anemia or extra calcium to a woman with weak bones.
  • have difficulty meeting a nutritional requirement through diet alone. For example, a calcium supplement is helpful for those who avoid dairy products such as milk.
  • are at risk for a deficiency. For example, a doctor may prescribe vitamin D to an older person with dark skin who doesn't get enough of the sunshine vitamin.
  • are pregnant (or trying to get pregnant) or breast-feeding. (Caution: Take only the multivitamin your doctor recommends.)
If any of these situations applies to you, or you suspect that you're not eating enough of each of the basic food groups to get the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for all the essential nutrients, talk to your doctor about which, if any, vitamin and mineral supplements to take.
Well everyone needs a multivitamin. We just can't eat enough throughout the day to absorb 100% of our daily needs. By the time we eat our food it is already being broken down and we lose some of those nutrients in the process so a multivitamin is essential.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.