What Supplements Do I Take?
Updated September 2013
Every month or so, someone reads my recommendations for vegans, checks out some vegan multivitamins, and then writes me asking about the high levels (many times the RDA) of some individual vitamins in many of the vegan multivitamins.
B vitamins (including folic acid) and vitamin C can be very high in multivitamins.
There are concerns that taking folic acid could be linked to cancer, but this connection is far from proven. In the meantime, limiting folic acid is prudent. [A meta-analysis from 2013 found no link between folic acid and cancer in the many clinical trials that have been performed using large amounts of folic acid. (1)] I’m not aware of any risks in taking B vitamins and vitamin C in the amounts found in typical vegan multivitamins.
There is also evidence that taking vitamin A (as retinol, retinyl palmitate, or retinyl acetate) can cause osteoporosis at typical amounts of 1,500 mcg (5,000 IU) found in vitamins. Vitamin A as carotenoids does not cause osteoporosis and is what is typically found in vegan vitamins. See Vitamin A at the Linus Pauling Institute for more info.
I thought it might interest readers to hear what supplements I take:
Calcium & Zinc: In the morning, I drink calcium-fortified soy milk and take a 25 mg zinc supplement (I break a 50 mg supplement in half). In the evening, I take one-half of a Trader Joe’s Ca/Mg/Zn supplement which provides 250 mg of calcium, 125 mg of magnesium, and 3.25 mg of zinc. I take it for the calcium and zinc.
Vitamin B12: I take half of a Trader Joe’s High Potency B “50” tablet every morning and evening. This provides 25 µg of vitamin B12 twice a day—that’s more than needed. I also suspect I can use a bit extra riboflavin which this provides.
Iodine: I take a 225 µg kelp tablet about once every 3 days. I hardly ever eat seaweed.
Vitamin D: During the warmer months (when sunburn is possible) I get out in the sun a lot, probably too much. During the colder months, I take a vitamin D supplement of 1,000 IU each day. Vitamin D2 supplements should be fine. I had my vitamin D levels tested in September of 2011 and they were at 34 ng/ml (84 nmol/l).
Vitamin A: I am pretty good about eating yellow vegetables or drinking carrot juice every day.
Omega-3s: I am a bit of an anomaly and do not adhere to my own recommendations. Around 2002, I had my blood clotting time tested. Being a vegan, I wanted to make sure I was getting enough omega-3s and that my blood wasn’t clotting too fast. Well, it turned out that it was actually clotting a bit too slowly. I had been taking one teaspoon of flaxseed oil per day for a couple years and decided to stop supplementing. I have had my clotting time tested a number of times since then and it is always a bit slower than normal. So for omega-3s, I will take a DHA tablet once in awhile, but by no means as often as I recommend for other vegans.
Creatine: I am a recreational weightlifter, lifting three times per week with short but intense workouts. For a long time, I supplemented with creatine off and on, but I think I’m finally done with that. It might benefit elite vegetarian athletes, but I did not find any consistent enough results to justify the cost or bother.
1. Martí-Carvajal AJ, Solà I, Lathyris D, Karakitsiou DE, Simancas-Racines D. Homocysteine-lowering interventions for preventing cardiovascular events. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jan 31;1:CD006612. | link