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The Surplus of Supplements

Por Eleazar Lara-Pantin, MD, MSc.* -

Much attention has been placed on vitamins by the media. There is so much information out there that it's difficult to differentiate between the credible and non-credible information. 

Vitamins are an essential component of our diet for the maintenance of good health and growth. This is not to say that the more vitamins we consume, the better off we are. Vitamins are classified as micronutrients because they are only needed in small quantities to carry out their functions. A healthy person can typically meet their vitamin requirements by eating a varied diet. Since each food has its own unique properties and nutrient composition, eating different types of foods from all food groups will increase the likelihood that you meet all of your nutrient needs.

Do I need to take vitamin tablets?

It is the position of the  American Dietetic Association (ADA) that the best way to meet vitamin and mineral needs is by eating a wide variety of foods. To do so, it is best to follow the  Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, and  MyPyramid, which emphasizes a diet based on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and meats/meat substitutes. The ADA does acknowledge that there are certain scenarios that do warrant the consideration of supplements:

  • Individuals that are following dietary regimens of <1600 calories under the supervision of a health professional
  • For people in certain stages of the lifecycle, such as pregnancy when vitamin and mineral needs are increased significantly
  • For prevention, treatment, and management of diseases or other conditions
  • As a public health measure for large subpopulations (example: folic acid for all women of child-bearing age to prevent neural tube defects)

Though it is possible to get too much of some vitamins, this is a relatively rare occurrence. Excessive consumption of vitamins is usually a result of taking mega-doses of vitamins, not from consuming too much of a certain fresh food. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that excessive amounts of vitamins can have a negative impact on your health. For example, excessive consumption of vitamin C increases urinary acidity levels, which favor the production of kidney stones and can also affect the absorption of folic acid in the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) due to the increase in acidity levels.

Unless you fit into one of the populations outlined above that should consider supplementation, try to meet your vitamin requirements through eating a balanced diet.

Sources:  American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Fortification and Nutritional Supplements.

*Dr. Lara-Pantin, a nutrition specialist, is Vice President of Product Development for DrTango, Inc.


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