Shopping for vitamin supplements can be overwhelming. With the variety of strengths out there, it can be hard to know how much to take. Can you go overboard?
What Makes Vitamins Different from One Another?
Their individual functions aside, the most basic defining characteristic between vitamins is whether they're water soluble or fat soluble. If they're water soluble, this means they aren't stored in the body for long-term use. The water-soluble vitamins are the eight B vitamins as well as vitamin C. These vitamins are used as needed and any excess is expelled. Vitamins that are fat soluble are stored in the body's organs and tissues and processed by the liver, making it possible to build up a large amount of them over time. The fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E and K.
How Much Is Too Much?
While taking a large amount any vitamin isn't advised unless directed to and supervised by a medical professional, fat-soluble vitamins pose a greater health risk when not used properly. Because these vitamins are stored within the body, consuming too many of them can lead to toxicity. For example, vitamin A, when taken in excess of 25,000 IU a day for an extended period of time, can lead to headaches, nausea and skin irritation. Vitamin C is inherently water soluble, but one form of it, vitamin C ester, is fat soluble and can lead to digestive issues when taken in large amounts.
The best way to look for vitamin supplements is to choose one that provides no more than 100 percent of your recommended daily intake. If you're eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, you'll be getting more than enough of the vitamins you need. Adding a multivitamin to your routine can help strengthen any weak spots in your diet -- it shouldn't be used as a replacement for good eating.
When Larger Doses Are Needed
So, who needs more? Depending on age and gender, the amount our bodies require of certain vitamins will change. Women who are pregnant may need lower or larger doses of certain nutrients to account for the developing fetus. Individuals with digestive conditions or any medical condition that inhibits the absorption and utilization of essential nutrients may also require additional supplementation. Lastly, those whose lifestyle can inhibit the production of certain vitamins may also need supplementation. An example of this situation is vitamin D deficiency, which results from a lack of sunlight exposure, in people who work at night and sleep during the day.
Your doctor can determine through blood tests whether or not you need more or less of a certain vitamin. It's always best to check with them before adding any new supplement to your routine, especially if you're pregnant, breastfeeding or being treated for a medical condition.
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