Millions of people regularly take one or more vitamin supplements daily. Many perceive vitamins as the way to combat nutritional deficiency from a poor or inadequate diet. With so many in the population leading busy lives, processed, convenience foods have become the go-to items at the grocery store. Because these foods may not be nutritionally sound, the belief remains that supplements can fix the problem.
Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s NationalCenter for Healthy Statistics found that more than half of all Americans take a vitamin supplement daily. According to a survey by Ipsos Reid for Health Canada, 71 percent of Canadians use natural health products, with vitamins, at 57 percent, topping the list of supplements used.
There even are nutritional testing companies that will draw blood and determine vitamin deficiencies, like NutriChem in Ottowa. The right vitamin mix is then created and personalized.
While vitamins can have their benefits, many health professionals say that the best way to get necessary vitamins is through the foods you eat. Furthermore, inexperienced people are simply taking their own cocktail of vitamins, and may be taking too much.
There is the perception that taking a certain amount can be beneficial, so that must mean that taking more of the vitamin will have double or triple the benefits. What many people do not realize is that vitamins — although they are naturally forming in food — can carry side effects like any other medication. Taking too much of a certain supplement can lead to toxicity or different side effects. Even in moderate doses, there can be some side effects to vitamins as well.
Vitamin A: There is particular concern over vitamin A. Taking high doses of antioxidant supplements such as vitamin A might do more harm than good. Some research shows that taking high doses of vitamin A supplements might increase the chance of death from all causes and possibly other serious side effects. It can also make liver disease worse and increase the risk of osteoporosis and hip fracture.
B complex vitamins: B complexes or groups of various B vitamins put together in the capsule are some of the more popular vitamins bought. Vitamin B deficiencies can lead to lack of energy and feelings of stress and anxiety and may contribute to difficulty with sleep. There is no magic number in terms of milligrams of B vitamins; however, taking too much can result in constipation, stomach upset, swelling, and even acne associated with B-12. Many people do not realize that some B vitamins can cause drowsiness, so it’s important not to drive until you determine the effects of the vitamins.
Vitamin C: People rely heavily on vitamin C to boost the immune system and promote good health. It is reported that vitamin C is largely water-soluble, so toxicity is rare. But side effects can include diarrhea, nausea and possible dental decalcification.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D has been touted as the wonder supplement in the past year. Taking vitamin D3, “the sunshine vitamin” can help regulate mood, improve sleep, regulate the circadian rhythm, among other things. Too much may cause nausea and vomiting, bone weakness, hypercalcemia — an excessive amount of calcium in the bloodstream, kidney stones and organ calcification.
Calcium: Calcium and vitamin D work together in the formation of strong bones. Again, too much of this supplement can lead to excessive amounts of calcium in the blood. Other side effects may include constipation and stomach upset, including excessive gas. Mental and mood changes, headaches, increased thirst, and other side effects are serious.
Vitamin E: Toxicity from this vitamin may include gastric distress, fatigue, easy bruising and bleeding, muscle weakness, and diarrhea.
In addition to vitamins, other nutritional supplements have the potential to interact with medications being taken. St. John’s Wort, for example, can affect cholesterol levels and the effectiveness of cholesterol-lowering drugs. It also may have contraindications with other medicines.
Although vitamins and supplements are sold over the counter, that doesn’t make them any safer than regulated medications. Individuals should always consult with a doctor before beginning supplements to find out the proper dosage and what vitamins may be beneficial or harmful.