Walk into any drugstore or pharmacy in this country and there’s bound to be a long aisle with shelves packed from top to bottom with vitamins, every one of which is marketed as sustaining or even improving some bodily function. Take this vitamin – it increases brain power! Take that vitamin – it gives you more energy in the bedroom! Take a multivitamin and you’ll live forever! I don’t mean to ruin the good time here but let’s talk truthfully about vitamins. Substances such as vitamins, minerals, and herbs are considered ‘dietary ingredients’ in the context of the FDA’s (Food and Drug Administration) definition of a dietary supplement, which is “a product taken by mouth that contains a dietary ingredient intended to supplement the diet.” The truth of the matter is that even though the FDA defines what vitamins and dietary supplements are, it does not regulate them, meaning that the public information about what a vitamin can actually do for the body is much more informal than that provided for prescription drugs. The vitamins we buy off the shelf are marketed based on what the manufacturer wants you to believe and not on exactly how it will interact with your body. So the question becomes, does taking daily vitamins really make a difference?
Vitamins are essential nutrients that are used for different biological functions, including growth, digestion, and nerve function. Vitamins, with the exception of vitamin D, cannot be produced in the human body. Consequently, we need to ingest vitamins through our diets. There are 13 vitamins that our body needs – A, C, D, E, K and the multitude of B vitamins. Most of these are water soluble and others (vitamins A, D, E, K) are fat soluble. All vitamins can be obtained by eating a balanced diet. People who might need vitamin supplementation include pregnant women, vegetarians, or people with certain medical conditions who have difficulty with vitamin absorption, as is the case with patients who have undergone gastric bypass surgery. The essential fact here, however, is that if you don’t have a nutritional deficiency then taking extra vitamins does absolutely nothing for your system. Our bodies use only the vitamins that they need and the rest are excreted mostly through the urine. In some cases, especially with the fat soluble vitamins, taking a surplus can cause toxicity. For instance, vitamin D taken in excess can cause dangerous levels of high calcium, which can lead to kidney failure and cardiac arrhythmias. Additionally, an overload of vitamin A can cause birth defects for pregnant women and high levels of vitamin E have been associated with increased deaths from all kinds of causes.
So should you be taking a daily dose of vitamins? The real answer is no…unless you have a medical condition or lifestyle that causes a deficiency. An overabundance of vitamins will not make you healthier or provide you any extra energy. If your diet is balanced and rich in fruits and vegetables, you don’t need anything else. In truth, anything more is just a waste of money.