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Are vitamins good for health?

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Vitamins – common misconceptions

There are many misconceptions about vitamins and their health benefits. Vitamins play an important role in keeping the body healthy. However, taking certain vitamins in large doses can actually be harmful. For most people, it’s best to get the vitamins our bodies need from a variety of healthy, unprocessed foods rather than taking supplements.

Vitamin supplements are often misused and taken without professional advice. They are often used as a form of medicine to treat ailments like the common cold or to counter lifestyle issues like stress. Contrary to popular belief, vitamins are not drugs or miracle cures. They are organic compounds that participate in various metabolic functions. High-dose supplements should not be taken unless advised under medical advice.

Vitamins alone are not the answer

Proper balance and adequate levels of essential nutrients are essential for a number of complex processes in our bodies. When vitamins are taken as supplements, they enter the body at levels that could never be achieved by eating even the healthiest diets.
Supplementation can also result in a single vitamin being eaten “alone” in large doses. When vitamins are consumed from food, they have many companions to help them along the way. For example, provitamin A (beta-carotene) in foods is found along with hundreds of its carotenoid relatives.

Just taking a vitamin pill is not an instant solution to feeling tired or lacking in energy. What gives us protection is the combination of a wide variety of compounds in foods (many of which we probably don’t even know about). When you artificially remove one of these and provide it completely out of context, it may not be as effective and can have negative effects when it comes to certain vitamins.

Recommended dietary intakes
Many people believe that since small amounts of vitamins are good for you, large amounts should be better. When it comes to vitamins, it’s better to follow the ‘less is more’ rule.

Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, meaning they can be stored in the body. Taking high doses of these vitamins, especially vitamin A, over a long period of time can cause harmful levels in the body unless you have a medically diagnosed deficiency.

Some of the water-soluble vitamins can also cause side effects in high doses. For example, vitamin B6 has been associated with nerve damage when taken in high doses.

For a healthy adult, if supplements are used, they should generally be taken at levels close to the recommended dietary intake (RDI). Information on how much a supplement provides can be found on the packaging. High-dose supplements should not be taken unless advised under medical advice.

Deficiencies and disease
Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K can be locked in the liver and body fat and stored for a long time. Water-soluble vitamins, including B-complex and vitamin C, are often only stored for a shorter period of time.

It takes weeks or months for a vitamin deficiency to affect your health. For example, you don’t take vitamin C for months before you develop scurvy. If your usual diet consists of a wide variety of fresh foods, an occasional delay in good nutrition won’t hurt you.

Sometimes reinforcements are needed
Supplements have a role to play for some groups of people. For example, people who follow long-term restrictive weight loss diets or have malabsorption issues such as diarrhea, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, or pancreatitis may benefit from supplements.

Folic acid supplements are highly recommended for women planning pregnancy to reduce the risk of having a baby with neural tube defects such as spina bifida. In addition, people who follow a vegan diet can benefit from vitamin B12 supplementation, especially if they are pregnant.

People who are advised to take vitamin supplements by their doctors are advised to work with their doctor to consult an accredited dietitian who can provide dietary advice regarding the individual’s condition.

If you need to take a supplement, it’s best to take multivitamins at the recommended dietary level, rather than single nutritional supplements or high-dose multivitamins.

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