Should we? Should we not? When it comes to multivitamins, it's unclear what -- if anything -- we should take. Previous observational research has shown that taking vitamin supplements not only does little to improve health, it might have an association with shortened life expectancy. But there's no denying that these nutrients are essential for good health. So how do we get them?
According to a government report, we're managing to get them somehow. Americans, on balance, are sufficiently nourished with essential vitamins and minerals like Vitamins A and D and folate, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Laboratory Sciences in the National Center for Environmental Health. In fact, fewer than 10 percent of the American population suffered from nutritional deficiencies, according to the research.
Whether that comes from supplements, food or enriched products is unclear, but the result is that we're absorbing the nutrients that keep us healthy.
"These findings are a snapshot of our nation's overall nutrition status," explained Christopher Portier, director of CDC's National Center for Environmental Health in a statement. "Measurements of blood and urine levels of these nutrients are critical because they show us whether the sum of nutrient intakes from foods and vitamin supplements is too low, too high, or sufficient."
In other words, while there are quibbles to be had about how much we absorb from various nutrient sources, the proof is in the blood work.
Researchers collected data from blood and urine samples provided by participants in the CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999 and 2006. They analyzed the samples for evidence of 58 different deficiencies.
According to the data, fewer than one percent of Americans have a folate deficiency -- a B vitamin that helps the body absorb iron and prevent anemia. Folate and folic acid are especially important for women of childbearing age and pregnant women because of its role in preventing birth defects like spina bifida.
Levels of Vitamin D, absorbed from the sun or ingested from enriched dairy products or supplements, were also satisfactory for the majority of Americans -- great news for bone health. The vitamin also helps protect against some cancers, Type 2 diabetes and bolsters the immune system. Still, there was room for improvement among some populations: non-Hispanic blacks suffered the largest deficiency, with 31 percent of those who participated suffering from vitamin D deficiency.
Other nutritional requirements that we had less success meeting included iodine, an important mineral for managing thyroid function and iron, especially among young women, blacks and Mexican-Americans. Additionally, about 10 percent of Americans were deficient in vitamin B6, which can help improve metabolic function.