Should You Take Vitamins and Supplements?
More than 150 million Americans take vitamins on a regular basis. We collectively spend billions of dollars on vitamins, multivitamins and supplements every year with the promise of health and vitality, weight loss, improved memory, and joint function. However, those vitamins are usually an unnecessary expense that you can live quite healthily without if you eat a nutritious diet. In some cases, they can be downright dangerous, especially if you’re taking the wrong vitamin… or even too much of the right one.
Yes, It’s Possible to Overdose on Vitamins
While you may think of overdosing as something that happens with prescription medications, it is possible to overdose on vitamins and experience vitamin toxicity. This toxic effect doesn’t have to happen all at one time. It can build up over time if you’re regularly taking too much.
How much is too much? The amount is different for every vitamin. If you’re taking a vitamin, the smartest approach is to consume the recommended daily value (DV), which is based on a 2,000 calorie diet. This value will be listed on the label of the vitamin bottle. The most that you should ever take in a day, from all sources including what you get from food and supplements, is called the tolerable upper intake level (UL). Consuming more than this level places you in the danger zone.
Health Problems Associated with Vitamins
The signs and symptoms of vitamin toxicity can be fairly subtle and may include difficulty sleeping, numbness and tingling or general irritability. At higher levels, the effects may be much more severe.
There are two different categories of vitamins: Water soluble or fat soluble. Each has its own set of health problems when taken in excess.
Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water before being absorbed. They are not stored in your body and, if you have an excess, it comes out in through urine. The water-soluble vitamins are C, B12, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, biotin and folic acid. Although they are not stored, taking too many water-soluble vitamins can still be a problem. They can cause upset stomach and diarrhea, nerve damage, low blood pressure, rapid or irregular heartbeat and convulsions.
Fat-soluble vitamins dissolve in fat before being absorbed by your body. Since these vitamins are stored in your body, it’s easier for them to reach toxic levels. The fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E, and K. Taking too many fat-soluble vitamins can cause serious health problems, including blurred vision, kidney and liver problems, spleen enlargement, hair loss and skin changes.
Get Your Vitamins from Food
Most people do not need to take a supplement to get the vitamins they need since they are found in ample supply through a balanced diet. Getting vitamins through whole foods also guarantees that you will not potentially overdose on a vitamin that may cause health complications. Although it’s possible some vitamins may reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases, more testing needs to be done to prove this definitively. Likely, it is a combination of the vitamin themselves and the other nutrients in foods that create the synergy for beneficial health effects.
Some people may need vitamin supplements, including pregnant women, the elderly and vegetarians. You should always check with your registered dietitian first to evaluate your diet and health status before adding a vitamin or supplement to your diet.
Medical Nutrition Therapy
Crozer-Keystone Health System offers credible nutrition information for patients and the community. Services are available for children and adults of all ages. To learn more visit crozerkeystone.org/Nutrition.