Although I’m not a doctor, I get to answer questions about taking vitamins every day. People want to get healthy, right?
It’s true, I absorbed tons of knowledge about nutrition over the years and I know a few neat tricks on the subject, but that’s not what I get asked. It’s just common sense stuff that – at least in my limited imagination – should be clear to everyone.
You won’t find medical advice here. Get yourself an open-minded doctor for that.
First, I find it encouraging that you are interested in your well-being and that you consider vitamins a part of it. Vitamins and minerals are essential micronutrients involved in every function of your body. By essential, I mean you can’t live without them, so making sure to get the right amount is a good strategy.
That doesn’t mean you should mindlessly swallow vitamins with a ‘just in case’ mindset!
Actually, you shouldn’t take any of them without confirming a deficiency. That is what Lab tests and doctors are for.
Not knowing what your body needs can’t be just covered by taking them all in multivitamin formulations. That’s not how it works.
I’m also pretty confident you can’t be deficient in all the stuff that’s on the label of a multivitamin bottle. You would be in serious trouble if that would be the case.
Some of those micronutrients are harmless if overdosed and get filtered out by healthy kidneys without you even noticing. “Expensive Pee” is the scientific term that describes it best.
The rest of them are the ones you should care more about. There are vitamins and minerals that can do some serious damage – and even kill you – if dosed carelessly.
And even if you can’t immediately feel the effect of a multivitamin, you are still playing with the chemistry of your body. That is especially true if you ingest some form of high dose synthetic supplement.
When whole foods are the source of our nutrients, we are generally safe. Nature has build in some ingenious self-regulating mechanisms to prevent disasters and I don’t mean poisonous mushrooms by that.
Take the apparently safe potassium as an extreme example. It’s a part of every living cell. Overdosing it from Avocados or bananas would be quite a task. You would have to eat around 400 bananas to get to a dangerous level. As a supplement though, you could in theory get the fatal dose in a pill.
Don’t fret now, potassium is pretty well regulated, but I hope you get the idea. Don’t supplement without making sure you know what you are doing.
The solution is obvious and disliked simultaneously. Eat healthy!
Before you start hating me forever, let me touch on a few advantages.
Getting the nutrients from real food is how we evolved. The body absorbs them safely and efficiently.
The benefits of whole food include lower rates of the biggest three man killers: heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.
Not the same is true for supplements. The body seems to have some issues recognizing and using them. In part, because they don’t come in combination with the other stuff that is in real whole food, but also because they are synthetic. And please don’t fool yourself, most of the ‘whole food’ labeled vitamins contain at least 80% man made ingredients.
Another fact is that some multivitamins contain combinations of ingredients that compete with each other, preventing absorption. Now how stupid is that?
It’s not only that you rise the value of your pee, it’s also that by taking a multivitamin, you get nutrients you don’t need or have more than enough of.
Some, like the fat soluble ones (A, D, E, K) don’t get excreted as well as water-soluble ones and can accumulate in your body leading to toxicity. Migraine, nausea, diarrhea, heartburn, irregular heartbeat and mental function disorders are just some of the mild outcomes.
Now lets get practical real quick, assuming you have done your lab results and your doctor, for example, points out a magnesium and Vitamin B12 deficiency. If it’s critical, your doctor might want to save you with a healthy dose of supplements. That’s OK. It is a necessity.
But after you did what the doctor said, it’s time to make sure you don’t get deficient again. That’s not so hard. Just ask Google what foods contain the missing vitamin or mineral and include them in your diet.
Eat Spinach for Magnesium and vitamin K, eat Beef to avoid B12 deficiency and get your vitamin C from Broccoli and Peppers. There is always a healthy food that contains what you need, so stop looking for pill-formed shortcuts.
And then, there is vitamin D. Not to call it an exception from the rant above, but because of its importance, it deserves its own paragraph and a rise in awareness. Vitamin D is naturally made through a chain of reactions when the skin gets sun exposure.
Unfortunately, many people don’t get that minimum sunshine in their busy lives. Blame it on skin cancer or daylong working hours, the fact remains that those folks – also considering scarcity of vitamin D rich foods – will have to take it from supplements.
Make sure to check your levels first and consult your well-informed, open-minded doctor about the form and dosage needed.
Finally, I hope I could convince you that, if nothing’s wrong, you don’t need to take vitamins just for the sake of it.
Also, I hope you will become mindful of your own lifestyle.
You don’t need supplements if you supply them the way nature intended to. It’s healthier too.