Most people don't need to take vitamin supplements and are able to get all the vitamins and minerals they need by eating a healthy, balanced diet.
Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients, such as iron, calcium and vitamin C, that your body needs in small amounts to work properly.
Many people choose to take supplements, but taking too much or taking them for too long can be harmful. The Department of Health recommends certain supplements for some groups of people who are at risk of deficiency. These are described below.
Folic acid supplements in pregnancy
All women thinking of having a baby should have a folic acid supplement, as should any pregnant woman up to week 12 of her pregnancy. Folic acid can help to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
Vitamin D supplements
Some groups of the population are at greater risk of not getting enough vitamin D, and the Department of Health recommends these people take daily vitamin D supplements.
These groups are:
- all babies from birth to 1 year of age (including breastfed babies, and formula-fed babies who have less than 500ml a day of infant formula)
- all children aged 1 to 4 years old
- people who are not often exposed to the sun – for example, people who are frail or housebound, are in an institution such as a care home, or usually wear clothes that cover up most of their skin when outdoors
For the rest of the population, everyone over the age of 5 years (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) is advised to consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D.
But most people aged 5 years and above will probably get enough vitamin D from sunlight in the summer, so you might choose not to take a vitamin D supplement during this season.
Supplements containing vitamins A, C and D
All children aged 6 months to 5 years should take a supplement containing vitamins A, C and D. This is a precaution because growing children may not get enough of these vitamins, especially those not eating a varied diet – for example, fussy eaters.
Ask your health visitor for advice, or read more information on vitamins for children. You can get vitamin drops for free if you qualify for Healthy Start vitamins.
Your doctor may also recommend supplements if you need them for a medical condition. For example, you may be prescribed iron supplements to treat iron deficiency anaemia.
Fizzy (effervescent) tablets: salt advice
Effervescent vitamin supplements or effervescent painkillers can contain up to 1g of salt per tablet. Consider changing to a non-effervescent tablet, particularly if you have been advised to watch or reduce your salt intake.