by Dr. Matthew Chircop
Unless you have a vitamin or mineral deficiency, there is no point taking vitamins or minerals. If you have a vitamin or mineral deficiency, you should be treated under the supervision of your doctor, as it is possible to overdose on vitamins and minerals (which, in some cases, has significant consequences for your health, including nerve damage, kidney damage, or liver damage).
Having said that, many people who consume a calorie-restricted diet for more than 3-6 months are potentially at risk of deficiencies of:
Vitamin D deficiency is probably the most common vitamin deficiency of Western civilisation. Vitamin D production involves the exposure of skin to ultraviolet light. As more and more of us spend more and more time indoors (and protect our skin from UV-related skin cancers and aging), the incidence of vitamin D deficiency is increasing. Vitamin D is fat-soluble. As fat intake is reduced when restricting calories, dietary intake of vitamin D will be significantly diminished. Having said that, unnecessary Vitamin D supplementation can also cause kidney stones. Why not go for a daily walk outside instead?
Calcium deficiency usually occurs in those with a relatively low intake of dairy products, particularly in the setting of menopause (when calcium requirements escalate in the absence of sex steroids). Dairy intake is often restricted when reducing calorie intake overall, as many dairy products contain saturated fat. Hard cheese and ice cream are particularly high in saturated fat, and are often early casualties. Replacing these with low fat diary options (such as yoghurt, skim milk, and soft cheeses) can help you to maintain your calcium intake. There are also many lactose-free calcium fortified substitute products available. For those who are not meeting their target requirements (which vary according to age and gender) on a long-term basis, calcium supplementation might be necessary. This needs to be done with care, as calcium supplementation can increase the risk of developing kidney stones.
Magnesium is found in green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, dried fruit, and fish. It is also found in dark chocolate. Magnesium deficiency is, therefore, a risk in people restricting their calorie intake, or restricting their diet in other ways. Overzealous oral supplementation with magnesium can cause diarrhoea.
Rather than spending money unnecessarily on supplements that you might not need, and potentially risking an adverse effect, the easiest thing to do is talk to your GP about your concerns. Mention that you are trying to lose weight. You and your GP can help you to determine if you are at risk of a deficiency of one of the aforementioned vitamins and minerals, and decide on the best course of action. A healthy, balanced and varied diet, combined with daily outdoor physical activity, is the best way to prevent micronutrient deficiencies.
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