No single vitamin is more important than others. However, some of them don’t stay in your body for long or aren’t absorbed easily, making them a priority when you’re considering taking vitamin supplements. While most vitamins are safe to take daily, check with your health care provider first to ensure the supplements you choose are safe for your needs.
Although it's typically recommended for women, folic acid, also known as folate or vitamin B9, is vital for both genders. It helps create new red blood cells to improve oxygen transportation, creates genetic strands in cells and regulates cell growth. As a water-soluble vitamin, your body doesn’t store folic acid, so you should get it in your daily diet. This vitamin is even more important for women of childbearing age. Folic acid helps prevent developmental defects that can occur early in pregnancy, sometimes before you’re even aware of it. You need 400 micrograms daily, no matter your gender, as established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine. Eating legumes, green leafy veggies, nuts, seeds, chicken, eggs and fortified cereals helps you get more folic acid.
This vitamin helps create red blood cells, preserves nerve cells and acts as a critical nutrient for a healthy neurological system. While your body stores some B12, taking it regularly is essential sometimes. In animal-based foods, B12 is attached to protein and requires specialized stomach acids to release it. If you take acid-reducing pills, such as if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease, or if you have abnormally low levels of stomach acid, the vitamin may never break apart. In this case, it could travel through your gut without being absorbed. When you take a B12 supplement or eat foods that are B12-fortified, such as breakfast cereals, the vitamin is already separated. These forms of B12 can be easier for absorption. Vegans also need to take a B12 supplement because they don't receive the vitamin from animal products. The recommendation for both men and women is 2.4 micrograms daily.
Vitamin C is involved in creating connective tissue, protecting cells, improving wound healing and powering your immune system. When your diet lacks vitamin C, you’ll feel fatigued and could have muscle weakness. Your body doesn’t have a way to store vitamin C because it's water soluble; thus, it’s a nutrient you want to take every day -- 75 milligrams daily for women and 90 milligrams for men. Up your intake by another 35 milligrams a day if you’re a smoker to give your body enough of the vitamin to reduce oxidative stress associated with cigarette smoke. You might not need a supplement if your diet is high in fruits and veggies. Bell peppers, kiwi fruit, broccoli, strawberries, oranges, cantaloupe and Brussels sprouts are some of the richest vitamin C foods.
While helping your body absorb calcium for strong bones is one of vitamin D’s biggest jobs, the vitamin also makes cells grow, minimizes inflammation and runs your immune system. Vitamin D is fat-soluble, allowing your body to store it. Simply spending a few minutes outside during midday sunlight hours can help your body make the vitamin D you need, but the sun’s rays are also linked to skin cancer. Rather than risking your skin health and possibly letting your vitamin D stores run low, aim to meet your vitamin D needs -- 600 international units daily for all adults -- by taking a supplement or consuming vitamin D-rich foods. Tuna, sockeye salmon, swordfish, whole eggs, sardines and beef liver are some of the limited natural vitamin D foods. You also can get this vitamin from fortified cereals, juices and dairy products.
- Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine: Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Vitamins
- Linus Pauling Institute: Folic Acid
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin C
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin D
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin B12
- MedlinePlus: Vitamin B12