Vitamins and minerals perform hundreds of roles to keep your body functioning. However, your body cannot produce the vitamins and minerals that it needs. Vitamins are organic substances (i.e. made by plants or animals), while minerals are inorganic elements in the soil and water, which are absorbed by plants or eaten by animals. So, your diet plays an important role in ensuring that you ingest your daily requirements of these crucial vitamins and minerals.
However, it is no secret these days, many people are turning to multivitamins as a source of these vitamins and minerals, and believe that it the key to a healthy lifestyle. Companies even produce and sell different multivitamins targeted specifically at young women and young men. But in order to make wise choices, it is important to stop and ask if we actually need all these multivitamins.
While the scientific jury may still be out over the subject, multivitamins are useful for if people have deficiencies due to malabsorption issues. Taking a supplement of folic acid during pregnancy is also crucial for preventing neural tube defects. But the thing is, multivitamins are called “dietary supplements” for a reason. When possible, the best option is consuming food that is naturally rich in vitamins and minerals. Anyone who consumes any type of meat daily will receive most of the iron they need to have in their diets. Need more Potassium? Have a banana! Low on Vitamin C? Eat an orange!
The thing to remember is that some vitamins (C and the B-complex vitamins) are water-soluble. Once your body has absorbed its daily intake, the excess will simply be flushed out of your body. So having lots of orange juice as well as a multivitamin with heaps of vitamin C daily becomes redundant. In contrast to water-soluble vitamins, when excess amounts are excreted, fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E, and K, can be stored in your body. So having lots of fat-soluble vitamins that exceed your daily intake can potentially lead to a vitamin overdose.
For example, according to Mayo Clinic, having too much Vitamin A stored away can cause swelling of the brain and skin loss. Of course, these are the extremes. Other (less extreme) side effects include dizziness and fatigue. However, it is impossible to know how each person’s body will respond and it is better to ensure that each person is only taking his or her allotment of Vitamin A that is safe. Another example are risk factors associated with an excess of iron in one’s diet. For women, due to menstruation, each of us is able to consume more iron than most men, but there are risk factors for overdosing on iron. According to Mayo Clinic , these side effects can include aches, cramping, and swelling of mouth and throat. However uncommon these are or even if they must occur over a long period of time, these are still prevalent health concerns.
At the end of the day, if you aren’t getting access to a well-balanced diet, or if you have deficiencies due to malabsorption problems, then multivitamins can provide your required daily dose of essential nutrients. However, merely taking them as a precaution to make sure you are leading a healthy lifestyle is probably not a good idea.
If you are feeling a bit under-the-weather and think you may need a vitamin or mineral boost, then first address your diet. You can check out the recommended daily intake for some key vitamins and minerals here, and learn which foods can provide these requirements here. If this doesn’t work, then it is best to only take specific vitamins or minerals that you may be deficient in. The take home message is to treat your multivitamins like a medication you’re thinking of starting: talk to your doctor first and see if they are really necessary. You may end up not needing them and saving yourself a lot of money!
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