Do I need vitamin supplements?

Most people can get all the vitamins and minerals they need by eating 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 

When are supplements recommended?

Many people choose to take supplements, but taking too much or taking them for too long could be harmful. The Department of Health recommends certain supplements for some groups of people who are at risk of deficiency, including: 

Folic acid supplements in pregnancy

All women thinking of having a baby should have a folic acid supplement, as should any pregnant women up to week 12 of her pregnancy. Folic acid can help to prevent neural tube defects, such as spina bifida

For more information, see vitamins and nutrition in pregnancy.

Vitamin D supplements

Some groups of the population are at greater risk of not getting enough vitamin D than others, and the Department of Health recommends that these people should take daily vitamin D supplements, to make sure they get enough.

These groups are:

  • babies from birth to one year of age, (including breastfed babies and formula fed babies who have less than 500ml a day of infant formula)  
  • all children aged one to four years old  
  • people who are not often outdoors – for example, those who are frail or housebound, or are in an institution such as a care home, or if they usually wear clothes that cover up most of their skin when outdoors

Advice for the rest of the population is that everyone over the age of five years (including pregnant and breastfeeding women) should consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement, particularly during the winter months (October to March).

Read more information about vitamin D.

Supplements containing vitamins A, C and D

All children aged six months to five years should take a supplement containing vitamins A, C and D. 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 read our page on vitamins for children. You can get vitamin drops for 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

Effervescent tablets: salt advice

Effervescent (fizzy) vitamin supplements or effervescent painkillers can contain up to a gram of salt per tablet. Consider changing to a non-effervescent tablet, particularly if you have been advised to watch or reduce your salt intake. 

Find out how much salt is good for you.

For more information, read more questions about healthy eating.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 16/10/2014

Next review due: 15/10/2016