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The shocking truth about vitamin supplements

by Roy Chambers (follow)
Nutrition (267)      Health Warnings (51)     
There are many people today who take regular vitamin supplements. The question is, are they necessary and can they even be harmful?

Attribution: Flickr - Steven Depolo

What are vitamins

These are naturally occurring chemicals that our bodies use in small amounts for various functions. When we lack these vitamins our health can suffer dramatically.

Attribution: Flickr - Stephan Hochhaus

However all vitamins are essentially poisons. Which is why we use them in such small amounts.

Do we need to take vitamins on a regular basis

If you have a healthy balanced diet then there is little benefit from consuming vitamin supplements. Everyone I know who is popping vitamin pills are also eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables anyway.

Attribution: Flickr - Justin Snow

It is rare that anyone with a healthy diet will benefit from vitamins.

When are vitamins most useful

There are many situations where you should consider taking vitamin supplements. Many travelers suffer due to changes in diet, especially not eating enough fresh fruits and vegetables. So if you are going on trip, pack some vitamin tablets.

Pregnancy is one of the times where lack of vitamins can be crucial, especially folic acid, which occurs naturally in food as folate. Because it is easy to be folate deficient and not realise it, is recommended that you take supplements when you are planning to become pregnant.

Vitamin D deficiency is common and supplements can be very important for people who are not receiving enough sunlight .

If you have any problem with your diet then vitamin supplements are a good idea. When you are sick and not eating, vitamin supplements can be essential to help maintain your general health.

What are the best sources of vitamins

Some studies have found that often the amount of the vitamin in pills will differ, some even completely lacking any. Given their lack of reliability your best source of vitamins is always going to be through your diet. Even if you have a deficiency, a little bit of research will point you in the direction of appropriate foods to consume.

Attribution: Flickr - Faith Goble

Are their dangers in taking supplements

Hypervitaminosis is where the body builds up toxic amounts of certain vitamins. These are generally those vitamins that are fat soluble and remain in the body, in particular vitamins A, D, E and K as well as iron. Slow release vitamin B3 supplements can also be a problem.

We are talking about tens of thousands of cases of vitamin overdose exposure every year in the United States alone, with some of them being life threatening and even a few deaths a year.

Where did the trend to take vitamin supplements come from?

Linus Pauling, who won 2 Nobel Prizes but was not a medical doctor, pushed the idea that we could prevent a whole range of diseases, from heart disease to the common cold by taking megadoses of vitamins.

Attribution: Wikicommons

Too bad there was no scientific basis for this, other than taking it as an extension of the fact that many diseases had already been cured through vitamin therapy. Not only that, many of the claims of vitamin megadoses have not only been disproved, often taking too much of a particular vitamin can even have the reverse affect.

So what should you do?

It is best to obtain your vitamins as part of your food through having a good balanced diet. Often taking vitamin tablets when you are not having a meal means that your body won't even absorb the vitamins.

Better to reach for some fruit and vegetables than pills, but if you need them, and you use them the right way, then high quality supplements may be beneficial. If in doubt consult a natural health practitioner, or consult your GP to arrange a blood test that will determine if you even have any deficiencies.

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