» We live in the age of multivitamin supplements. About half of Americans, especially of the age over 40, take daily multivitamin supplements with the purpose of preserving or improving their health. Do these supplements heal and not harm us? A little research will help us see that the aura of ultimate good that surrounds vitamins is not realistic. On the other hand, we should know that the deficiency of vitamins and minerals, should it occur, causes serious health problems.
Does Taking Daily Multivitamins Make You Healthier?
Regular intake of multivitamins can help you in many ways. First of all, it will support your health as you age, because when you get older, your body has a harder time absorbing nutrients from food, and your needs increase. Taking vitamins and minerals can improve your mood, memory, muscle strength, bone density, skin and hair health, and sexual function, help maintain healthy teeth and gums, fight stress and anxiety, and help with addictions. On the other hand, a deficiency of some vital minerals or vitamins in your diet might lead to some very dangerous health conditions.
Considering how important vitamins are to our bodies, we may suppose that people who take them daily are healthier than those who don’t, but this is not always true. Long-term studies, which involved thousands of people, failed to show that taking daily multivitamins makes life longer and protects from chronic diseases. Some studies even showed an increased risk of cancer in people who regularly took high doses of vitamins A or E. Most doctors agree that there is not enough evidence to recommend a daily routine use of multivitamin supplements to healthy individuals.
When Vitamins Are Most Needed
There are many situations, in which taking certain vitamins is necessary.
Here are some examples:
- Vitamin D and calcium. These supplements help increase bone density; they are recommended for postmenopausal women as well as to people whose bones were injured. This combination can also improve balance and prevent falling. However, some studies showed that this type of treatment may have adverse effects on the cardiovascular system.
- Vitamin D for kids. Infants and children benefit from vitamin D supplements or fortified milk.
- Folic acid. Women who might get pregnant or those in the first month of pregnancy should take folic acid from dietary supplements or fortified foods. Taking this vitamin reduces the risk of neural tube defects in the fetus.
- B12 vitamin. This specific nutrient is crucial for the nervous system, blood, and other systems of the body. We get B12 only from animal, poultry, and fish products. Furthermore, the ability to absorb natural, protein-bound vitamin B12 from food decreases with age. People who are over 50 years old benefit from taking this vitamin from dietary supplements or fortified foods. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need more of B12. Vegans and individuals with poor diet should also take B12 supplements.
- Iron. Women need iron more than men because of their periods, iron is also essential for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
» There are many other situations when the doctor will recommend the use of certain vitamin combinations or minerals to the patient. People who need vitamin supplements the most are those with poor, restricted or vegan diet, infants, pregnant and breastfeeding women, sick, injured people or those who suffer from chronic diseases, and people with poor health conditions. Consult your doctor about which vitamins will be beneficial for you.
Safety Issues That Everyone Should Know
Vitamins and minerals that are vital for us to consume can be harmful if overdosed. Why would anyone overdose them? Beside the misconception that the more vitamins, the better, several other ways can lead people to an overdose. Many multivitamin supplements already have reasonable amounts of some vitamins and minerals, and if a person also eats fortified foods or takes another supplement containing the same ingredients, the overdose becomes very probable. That is why if you use vitamin supplements or fortified products, you have to pay attention to the ingredients and not consume nutrients in the amounts greater than recommended. It is also possible that the person already gets the sufficient daily amount of certain vitamins and minerals from their meals.
The most frequently mentioned dangers related to vitamins and minerals are:
- Taking a high dose of vitamin A in the form of retinol during pregnancy can be harmful to the baby.
- Smokers and former smokers should avoid vitamin supplements providing significant amounts of vitamin A (in any form) because studies have shown that this increases the risk for smokers to develop lung cancer.
- Anyone taking iron supplements should be careful not to overdose. Iron poisoning is a very common issue, primarily among children.
The Two Important Classes of Vitamins
Among the vitamins, we have two groups: there are water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins. Your body can rid itself from water-soluble vitamins with urine more quickly than from fat-soluble vitamins, which tend to accumulate in the body’s tissues (fat, muscles, and liver), reach toxic levels and become harmful. The fat-soluble group includes vitamins A, D, E, and K.
The group of water-soluble vitamins encompasses vitamin C, B-group vitamins including folic acid, and a number of others. Although their excess can be quickly eliminated from the body, they can still cause some serious health problems. Excess vitamin C may cause kidney stones; too much folic acid may mask a vitamin B12 deficiency; B6 is toxic if overdosed.
Our bodies can accumulate fat-soluble nutrients and use some of the stored amounts later when needed. On the other hand, we have to consume a sufficient amount of water-soluble vitamins every day, because our bodies cannot store them.
» Let us conclude with the thought that we should never rely on multivitamin supplements while having a poor diet. The supplements we take can never substitute healthy food patterns.