Vitamin supplements have a mix of nutrients, some of which we lack in our day to day diet and some that can be damaging when consumed in excess. Like vegans might require calcium as they avoid dairy products. An excess of nutrients can cause ailments than prevent them, eg: excess zinc reduces immunity. So stick to a balanced diet and avoid supplements.
If you are at all like me, everytime you walk into your local pharmacy, drugstore or even supermarket, you become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the vitamin aisle. Sure, you may have headed there just to pick up some cough drops for that scratchy throat but minutes later you’re juggling an armful of pill bottles as you make your way to the cash register, leaving about $100 poorer.
When you see the number of vitamins on the market, it’s hard not to feel like you could have a deficiency. Even if you do feel healthy, you might start to think you could somehow become superhuman by adding an extra pill (or five) to your morning routine. An increasing number of studies, however, are finding just the opposite – we may be putting ourselves more at risk with the number of supplements the average person consumes.
The nature of the word ‘supplement’ implies that it is necessary in order to complement something lacking in our consumption. In the case of vegetarians or picky eaters, this may very well be the case. Many vegetarians are advised to take a B12 supplement, and while it is possible to get these from plant sources (sweet potatoes, seaweed, nutritional yeast, to name a few), a supplementary source is usually suggested.
Vegans, what with their avoidance of dairy, should surely be calcium deficient, right? Not necessarily. Calcium levels are fairly high in dark leafy greens, broccoli, and legumes, meaning supplements are rarely required to meet daily requirements.
In the case of anyone on a special diet, or just a picky eater who avoids foods with essential nutrients, vitamins and supplements are a proven solution. However, for those of us already eating a fairly healthy diet (which is probably a good portion of people in the First World) taking an excess of vitamins is unnecessary.
When a small pill brings promise of glowing skin, the thickening of hair, or the aiding in weight loss, it can be quite tempting. The reality however, is that these supplements aren’t absorbed the way naturally occurring nutrients in our food would be. A case in point is the glorified vitamin B.
B-Vitamins are said to raise energy levels, promote healthy skin and aid in red blood cell production, a particular emphasis on the need for more B12 has been noted in recent years. However the body’s ability to absorb these vitamins is well under capacity of the high volume most supplements offer. This results in malabsorption and a large amount of the vitamins you paid a pretty penny for, are excreted (ever had that bright neon urine that was a little bit concerning? That’s those expensive B Vitamins making a swift exit).
Not only is vitamin overconsumption unnecessary from a biological point of view, it can even be harming if abused. Too much zinc can actually reduce immune function, and excessive niacin has been linked to cell damage. The list goes on.
In the days of long sea voyages and citrus blights, Vitamin deficiency was a serious concern, scurvy being the direct result of a lack of Vitamin C. However in today’s world where varieties of food are accessible to a wide range of people, a well-balanced diet is our best bet for receiving the right amount of nutrients and vitamins.