Dr. Mark Anderson: To B-12 or Not to B-12 - Which Vitamins Are Right For You?

UW Health Family Medicine physician Dr. Mark AndersonMadison, Wisconsin - UW Health Family Medicine physician Mark Anderson writes a monthly column for The Herald-Independent, which covers Monona and Cottage Grove. Columns are re-published here with permission.


The global vitamin market will be a $3.2 billion industry by 2017, if current market research is accurate. With all the options out there, what, if any, vitamins should you consider taking?

In general, if you are healthy and eat a well-balanced diet, you probably don't need to take vitamins. There are, however, specific recommendations based on your lifestyle.

If you are a vegan, you should use vitamin B-12. From research and personal experience, I believe it is nearly impossible to get enough vitamin B-12 through non-meat sources alone. If you are starting a vegan diet, you should supplement with 1000 mg every other day. If you have been on a vegan diet for a while and have not been supplementing, consider seeing your doctor for a blood test to see if your B-12 level is low. It is also recommended to use 8-27mg/day of iron when eating a vegan diet.

If you are lucky enough to live in a warm, sunny climate, you might be getting enough vitamin D based on your daily exposure. However, if you're like most of us in the Midwest, I recommend supplementing with between 400-1000 IUs daily (unless your doctor recommends a higher dose). There's a lot of new research on the health benefits of vitamin D, which includes improved immune function, improved perceptions of pain and fatigue and improved bone health.

If you are pregnant or may become pregnant, you should supplement with a prenatal vitamin which includes folic acid. Folic acid is crucial for proper spinal development in a growing fetus, especially during the first three months of pregnancy. It is recommended that women supplement with a prenatal vitamin containing 400mg of folic acid from the month before getting pregnant through at least the end of the first trimester. But folic-acid supplementation is often encouraged through the end of breastfeeding because of the iron content, which should be around 27mg/day. This amount of iron can also be beneficial in women with abnormally long or heavy periods.

Babies who are exclusively breast-fed make up another group that needs vitamin supplementation. It is recommended that these babies take a multivitamin which includes vitamin D. This helps promote healthy bone mineralization as babies grow and develop.

Calcium is another supplement that benefits a wide range of populations. It is recommended that you take 1000mg of calcium daily if you are a male under age 65 or a woman under age 50. It is recommended you take 1500mg of calcium daily if you are under age 25, over age 65, postmenopausal, pregnant, or breastfeeding. Most people can meet these recommendations with up to five servings of dairy, sardines, and/or cooked green vegetables daily.

By following these guidelines, you can keep your body in great condition without (literally) flushing excess nutrients down the toilet.


This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Anderson.

Date Published: 03/16/2013

News tag(s):  mark c anderson

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