Micronutrients, vitamins and minerals, are required nutrients the body requires in very small amounts to help regulate, control, or enhance various physiological functions. The body needs inorganic minerals and organic vitamins to run optimally. Micronutrients can typically be obtained through a balanced diet, but the multibillion dollar supplement industry would have consumers believe that supplements are the only way to achieve ideal health.
Low intake of micronutrients can negatively influence health and performance. Many American diets can lead to nutrient deficiencies due to the typical western diet being too rich in macronutrients and too low in micronutrients, leading to a deficiency, which contributes to the development of many pathologies. For example deficiencies in pyridoxine, pantothenate, zinc, riboflavin, iron, copper, and biotin, impair the synthesis of heme, which may lead to the breakdown of cellular mitochondria, and DNA damage, which may lead to diminished immune function and neuromuscular function (Ames, 2006). A deficiency in B vitamins, magnesium and zinc may compromise the sequence of ATP production from food, and may cause tiredness, decrease concentration, and increase chance of infection (Huskisson, Maggini, & Ruf, 2007). Lukaski (2004) also explains that deficiencies in magnesium increases oxygen demands in submaximal exercise, therefore decreasing performance. Low micronutrient consumption can be problematic.
Supplementation of micronutrients through multivitamin/mineral tablets has generally been found to be a safe intervention to address an individuals nutrient gap when faced with a nutritional deficiency, when consuming the recommended dosage (Biesalski & Tinz, 2017). However, it is still preferable to consume micronutrients from food. The National Athletic Trainer’s Association recommends people consume a performance diet (Buell et al., 2013). A performance diet consists of a variety healthy foods(fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and healthy fats) and contains the required amounts of micronutrients the body needs to function optimally. Also, micronutrients in food are typically absorbed more efficiently in the body, than those found in powders and pills. Supplements are also poorly regulated and safety research may not have been completed on A well-balanced eating plan can negate the need for consumption of a supplement.
Interestingly, the use of an additional micronutrient supplement does not improve performance when a person adheres to an adequate diet (Lukaski, 2004). This goes against the consumer belief that more is always better. An interesting study conducted on Australian college students highlights who uses dietary micronutrient supplements and a fundamental disconnect with their usage. Wiltgren et al. (2015) questioned 1306 freshman about the quality, frequency of their food intake and their dietary supplement intake. The study showed that 56% of students took a micronutrient supplement, at least once a month, and that the students who took a dietary supplement drank less alcohol, did not smoke, had a healthier diet, and generally engaged in healthier behaviors than those who did not take a supplement. The study leads me to believe that often the people who would benefit from a micronutrient supplement, due to poor nutrition, do not take them, and those who would not benefit from a supplement, due to adequate food intake, take supplements.
I would recommend a micronutrient supplement in limited circumstances, such as if a person has a specific nutritional deficiency and the person has been unsuccessful at addressing the issue through improved eating. A registered dietician or physician should be consulted when starting a micronutrient supplement.
Ames, B. N. (2006). Low micronutrient intake may accelerate the degenerative diseases of aging through allocation of scarce micronutrients by triage. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(47), 17589-17594.
Biesalski, H. K., & Tinz, J. (2017). Multivitamin/mineral supplements: Rationale and safety. Nutrition, 33, 76-82.
Buell, J. L., Franks, R., Ransone, J., Powers, M. E., Laquale, K. M., & Carlson-Phillips, A. (2013). National athletic trainers association position statement: Evaluation of dietary supplements for performance nutrition. Journal of Athletic Training, 48(1), 124-136.
Huskisson, E., Maggini, S., & Ruf, M. (2007). The role of vitamins and minerals in energy metabolism and well-being. Journal of International Medical Research, 35(3), 277-289.
Lukaski, H. C. (2004). Vitamin and mineral status: Effects on physical performance. Nutrition, 20(7-8), 632-644.
Wiltgren, A., Booth, A., Kaur, G., Cicerale, S., Lacy, K., Thorpe, M., . . . Riddell, L. (2015). Micronutrient supplement use and diet quality in university students. Nutrients, 7(2), 1094-1107.