For most people, vitamin/mineral supplements are the most frequently used nutritional supplements. Much of this use represents an expensive and wasted effort. Well-planned diets can meet most of the vitamin and mineral needs of people.
As far as possible, obtain your daily quota of vitamins and minerals by eating a wide variety of foods. Relying only on vitamin supplements is dangerous – all the required nutrients may not be present in the supplement.
There is another risk associated with vitamin supplements. Since fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) are stored in the body, toxic levels can easily be reached with careless supplementation.
In the case of vitamins and minerals, small is good so is more better?
It is not! All nutrients, of which vitamins and minerals are two groups, are potentially toxic when ingested in sufficiently large amounts. Safe intake levels vary widely from nutrient to nutrient. They also depend on age and health.
High dosage vitamin and mineral supplements can interfere with the normal metabolism of other nutrients and with the therapeutic effects of certain drugs. Deficiency states of one particular nutrient can be brought about by an oversupply of another nutrient. Most of the vitamins and minerals work in balance with each other. If one is present in a greater-than-normal quantity, the others become less-than-normal.
The advantage of getting vitamins the natural way – by eating a variety of foods – is that they usually come in balanced proportions.
Of the water soluble vitamins, excess
B3 (niacin) leads to liver toxicity
C leads to red blood cell hemolysis
B6 (pyridoxine) leads to nervous system toxicity
A simple multi-vitamin or mineral supplement that does not provide more than 100% of the daily value for any of the nutrients is unlikely to be harmful even if it isn’t actually helpful. However, “super” supplements, large doses or mega doses, are all likely to be harmful.
Who should take supplements?
Usage of nutritional supplements may be indicated in some circumstances including the following:
- Women with excessive menstrual bleeding may need to take iron supplements
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need more of certain nutrients, especially iron, folic acid and calcium
- People with very low calorie intakes usually have a diet that does not meet their nutrient needs
- Strict vegetarians (no eggs) or vegans (no eggs or dairy products) may not be getting adequate calcium, iron, zinc and Vitamin B12 through food
- Certain disorders or diseases and some medications may interfere with nutrient intake, digestion, absorption, metabolism or excretion, and thus change requirements
- Old people who cannot chew properly and have a problem consuming a balanced diet may need to take supplements to get all the nutrients