Do I need vitamin supplements?

Most people can get all the vitamins and minerals they need by eating a balanced, varied diet. For more information, see What is a healthy, balanced diet?

What are vitamins and minerals?

Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that your body needs in small amounts to work properly. For example:

  • iron has several important roles in your body, such as making red blood cells
  • calcium builds strong bones and teeth
  • vitamin C also has several important roles, such as keeping cells healthy 

You can find out more information about vitamins and minerals.

When are supplements recommended?

Many people choose to take supplements, but taking too much or taking them for too long could be harmful. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends certain supplements for some groups of people who are at risk of deficiency, including: 

Folic acid supplements in pregnancy

These should be given to all women thinking of having a baby and pregnant women up to week 12 of the pregnancy, to help prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. For more information see vitamins and supplements in pregnancy.

Vitamin D supplements

These can be given to all pregnant and breastfeeding women, children aged six months to five years, and people aged 65 and over.

They should be given to people who are not exposed to much sun, for example people who cover up their skin for cultural reasons, or people who are housebound (stay indoors) for long periods of time. For more information see What does vitamin D do?

A supplement containing vitamins A, C and D

This should be given to all children aged six months to four years. This is a precaution because growing children may not get enough, especially those not eating a varied diet, such as fussy eaters. Ask your health visitor for advice, or for more information see vitamins for children. You can get vitamin drops free if you qualify for Healthy Start vitamins.

Your GP 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.

Salt and effervescent tablets

Effervescent vitamin supplements or effervescent painkillers can contain up to 1g salt per tablet. Consider changing to a non-effervescent tablet, particularly if you have been advised to watch or reduce your intake of salt. Read about how much salt is good for you.

Read more questions about healthy eating.

Further information:


Media last reviewed: 07/01/2013

Next review due: 07/01/2015

Page last reviewed: 17/10/2012

Next review due: 16/10/2014