Nutritional Supplements: A Beginner’s Guide

Nutritional supplements can help in the assurance that you are getting the essential nutrients that your body needs in order to maintain general health, support mental and physical performance, as well as provide immune support (1). 


In this article you can find:

  • What are nutritional supplements?
  • Types of nutritional supplements
  • What are the benefits of taking nutritional supplements?
  • Common nutritional supplements
  • Signs of a nutritional deficiency
  • Seeking advice from your health care provider


What Are Nutritional Supplements?

Nutritional supplements refer to products that are added to the diet, which provide additional macro and micronutrients. Nutritional supplements are available in many forms, such as tablets, capsules, powders, and liquids. They are widely used by individuals who are unable to meet their nutritional requirements through diet alone.


Types of Nutritional Supplements

Nutritional supplements can be described under the related nutrients:

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Fiber
  • Herbs or other botanicals 
  • Enzymes (complex proteins that speed up biochemical reactions)
  • Amino acids (the building blocks of protein)
  • Fatty acids


What Are the Benefits of Taking Nutritional Supplements? 

Nutritional supplements can help correct nutritional deficiencies. Certain groups of individuals can be more vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies, this includes:

  • Pregnant women/women who are planning to conceive
  • Older adults
  • Individuals with food allergies or intolerances
  • Individuals with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis or celiac disease
  • Individuals who follow a restrictive diet 


It is important to note that for those who are not classified into a high-risk group, do not have a nutrient deficiency, are healthy and consume a healthy balanced diet, nutritional supplements will less likely boost their immunity or help prevent infections or other diseases. 


Common Nutritional Supplements


  • Calcium


Calcium provides the building blocks for strong bones. Calcium can reduce the risk of developing diseases such as osteomalacia and rickets (3), and also help protect against osteoporosis. 


  • Omega-3 fatty acids


Studies suggest omega-3 fatty acids have a beneficial role to play in numerous bodily processes, such as inflammation, heart health, and brain function.


  • Folic acid


Folic acid is a synthetic form of the vitamin folate. Folic acid should be taken by women who are planning to conceive and during the first few weeks of pregnancy in order to reduce the risk of a neural tube defect (NTD) (4). 


  • Vitamin D


Vitamin D plays a major role in the way the body absorbs other nutrients. It assists the intestines to absorb calcium into the bloodstream, so it can then be transported to the bones, muscles, and other bodily tissues. It is also a vital factor in ensuring that your muscles and organs work efficiently (5). 


  • Vitamin B12


Vitamin B12 plays a vital role in the production of red blood cells and DNA, as well as the proper functioning of the nervous system (6). Supplementation of B12 is important for those who follow a plant-based diet, since B12 is found naturally in animal products such as fish, meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. 


  • Vitamin C


Vitamin C has been linked to various health benefits such as increasing antioxidant levels, iron absorption and immunity, as well as decreasing blood pressure and inflammation. Studies suggest that it may also help prevent acute respiratory infections (7). 


Signs of A Nutritional Deficiency

Signs of a nutritional deficiency can include:

  • Pallor (paleness of the skin)
  • Fatigue
  • Respiratory issues
  • Abnormal food cravings
  • Periods of lightheadedness
  • Constipation
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Angular cheilitis (cracks at the corner of the mouth)
  • Bleeding gums
  • Night blindness
  • Bitot’s spots (white growths present on the conjunctiva of the eye) 
  • Seborrheic dermatitis (SB) (skin disease that causes an itchy rash with flakey scales)
  • Hair loss
  • Keratosis pilaris (red or white goosebump-like bumps that can be seen on the skin)
  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS) (unpleasant sensations in the legs, as well as an irresistible urge to move them)


Seeking Advice from Your Health Care Provider

Nutritional supplements are regulated as foods, not drugs. Thus, they are available to purchase without a prescription. However, it is important to talk to your health care provider about the nutritional supplements you are taking as taking too much or taking them for too long could be harmful. It is particularly important to do this if you are taking any other prescription or over-the-counter medication (as some medications can interact with nutritional supplements), if you are being treated for a health condition, or are pregnant/planning to conceive. 



  1. KnowYourOTCS. 2021. Dietary Supplements: Make Sure You Get The Benefits - Knowyourotcs. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 12 January 2021].
  2. 2021. Office Of Dietary Supplements - Dietary Supplements: What You Need To Know. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 12 January 2021].
  3. Murray TM. Prevention and management of osteoporosis: consensus statements from the Scientific Advisory Board of the Osteoporosis Society of Canada. 4. Calcium nutrition and osteoporosis. CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal. 1996 Oct 1;155(7):935. 
  4. 2021. Folic Acid: Vitamin That Helps The Body Make Healthy Red Blood Cells. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 12 January 2021].
  5. National Institutes of Health (Office of Dietary Supplements). 2020. Vitamin D: Health Professionals Fact Sheet. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 14 October 2020].
  6. Herrmann, W. and Obeid, R., 2011. Cobalamin Deficiency. Subcellular Biochemistry, pp.301-322.
  7. 2020. Office Of Dietary Supplements - Vitamin C. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 15 November 2020].