Once upon a time, the only source of vitamins was from food. Now shelves are filled with all kinds of vitamin supplements, with choices ranging from pills and chewables, to gummies and liquids. While the goal of taking vitamin supplements is to promote health, what you don't know can have the opposite effect.
1. You can Take too much.
While most people know about requirement levels, below which you are a risk of being deficient, there is also an upper tolerable limit to consider. These recommendations are based on scientific studies, to show a range of safety and efficacy for individual vitamins. Taking high doses of individual vitamins changes how the body uses it, and can promote negative side effects impacting multiple body organs, as well as interfere with the absorption of other nutrients.
Bottom Line: Stick with 100% of the RDI (recommended daily intake) for vitamins, unless you have a special medical need and have talked with your doctor.
2. Water soluble and fat soluble vitamins act differently in the body.
All vitamins are not the same, and have a different chemical composition that impacts how the body digests and stores them. Water soluble vitamins (B-vitamins, vitamin C) are not retained by the body over long term. Any excess consumed in foods or supplements is eliminated in urine.
While it's never a good idea to take high doses of any vitamins, water soluble vitamins are less risky because they do not accumulate in the body. You'll have vitamin-rich urine. Fat-soluble vitamins are retained by the body and stored in the liver. Over time, the amounts can accumulate, sometimes resulting in health damaging effects.
Bottom Line: Be mindful of water and fat soluble vitamins and the doses you take. The best bet is a daily multi-vitamin. Talk to your doctor for dosing of additional fat soluble vitamins like vitamin D and E.
3. Everyone doesn't need a daily multi-vitamin.
Recent studies do not support the use of a daily multivitamin supplement to ensure good health. But population data described in the studies do not always apply to an individual. Think of a daily multi-vitamin as "insurance" to meet dietary requirements if your daily eating does not include at least 5 servings of colorful fruits and vegetables along with several servings of whole grains.
The healthiest eaters likely are meeting daily requirements and don't need a supplement. If you're somewhere in between (like most people), you might consider a multi-vitamin several times a week rather than daily. And if you take certain medications or have food restrictions for any reason, talk to your doctor about the best plan for you.
Bottom Line: Vitamin requirements can change with age and dietary status, so be mindful of your overall health status when thinking about adding a multivitamin. Ask you doctor for advice, especially if you take prescription medications.
4. Vitamin supplements do not replace foods.
Food is always the number one place to get your vitamins. And a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains covers the whole spectrum of vitamins. A healthy diet provides your nutritional needs, without adding a supplement. But nutritional support from a multivitamin can help round out nutritional requirements because of "real-life" eating issues - dieting, meal skipping, eating processed foods - that can compromise your vitamin intake.
If you're not a healthy eater, and take a multivitamin daily, you also need to boost your intake of fruits and vegetables. Remember that an orange has much more than vitamin C!
Bottom Line: Vitamins are called "supplements" because they support - but do not replace - real foods.
5. Medications can change your vitamin requirements.
Vitamin needs are based on age, gender, and other factors. Medications can impact certain vitamin needs over time. Whether additional supplements are needed (or need to be limited) vary with medication class. Talk to your doctor for any adjustment in your diet and multivitamin intake.
This is one instance where an individual vitamin supplement can be an important addition.
Bottom Line: Review your medications with your doctor to determine if you need more or less of any particular vitamin.