The use of vitamins and mineral and nutritional supplements is on the increase. In our increasingly fast paced world many of us are time poor, forcing us to either eat on the run and take shortcuts or be lazy about ensuring we get sufficient in our diet. Consequently we fill up on whatever is to hand, usually something chock full of unhealthy sugars or loaded with excessive carbohydrates because they’re convenient.
We’re also continually being told that fruit and vegetables, particularly commercially produced ones, are no longer as healthy, nutritionally or chemically, as they used to be. Inevitably that gives rise to a perception that even if we eat properly we’ll still come up lacking in some things. The easy fix therefore is to down a vitamin pill or two or take some other nutritional supplements. Which is fine if you stick to the recommended dosages but unfortunately many people have a tendency to overdo things.
What Do Vitamins Do And What Are They?
Vitamins are part of a large group of chemical compounds called organic compounds that are associated with living organisms. We only require very small quantities of them and most, if not all, can be obtained through a balanced diet.
Some of vitamins’ functions in our bodies include boosting our immune system, helping to heal our wounds, providing support for our skeleton and muscles, helping to repair our cells and assisting with the metabolic processes of converting food to energy. So whilst we may only require small amounts of them, they are nevertheless a vital part of our overall health and well-being.
The list of vitamins is A, B group, C, D, E and K. Biotin is sometimes referred to as Vitamin H but generally it’s classed as a B group vitamin. The B group vitamins and Vitamin C are water-soluble and can’t be stored by the body so must be included in our daily diet. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble and can be stored in the body. Therefore daily supplementation, whilst desirable in small amounts that can be obtained in our diet, is not strictly essential. In sunny climates Vitamin D supplementation is not required at all because the body can synthesize this vitamin in the skin from the sun.
Minerals And Trace Elements For The Body
Minerals and trace elements are chemicals that are just as essential in our diet as vitamins for good health. We also only require them in small quantities. The main minerals needed are calcium, chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium and zinc. As with vitamins, most healthy people obtain sufficient quantities of most of these minerals and trace elements in a good diet.
Some of the functions minerals and trace elements carry out in our bodies include bone development and strength, fluid balance, nerve function, oxygen transport, healthy thyroid function and so on.
Excessive Vitamin And Mineral Intake Not Healthy
Yes, they’re essential but it’s this ‘essentialness’ that has people thinking a lot of a good thing must be better than just enough or not quite enough. However, it doesn’t work like that with vitamins and minerals. Some of them, notably the fat-soluble vitamins, can be stored in our body. Therefore supplementing them outside of what can be obtained in a healthy diet becomes unhealthy as excessive quantities can build up in body tissues.
Too Many Minerals And Trace Elements
Some vitamins and minerals are particularly harmful if taken in excessive amounts or if allowed to build up in the body. Others work together and excessive intake of one affects the effectiveness of the other.
- Excessive intake of calcium for example reduces our uptake of other important minerals like iron, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc. It can also lead to too much calcium in the blood, a condition called hypercalcemia and damage our kidneys.
- Overdoing selenium causes a condition called selenosis which causes loss of hair, gastrointestinal problems, tiredness, irritability, minor nerve damage, bad breath and blotchy white spots in nails.
- Not enough iron contributes to anaemia but excessive iron intake can be toxic – just one serious overdose can kill. Over time excess iron in the body can lead to conditions such as an enlarged spleen and liver, congestive heart failure, arrhythmia (irregular heart beat), pain in the abdomen, insulin dependent diabetes and skin discolouration. For pregnant women, one group commonly associated with low iron, taking iron supplements when not required can bring on premature birth and lead to babies with low birth weight due to poor growth whilst in the uterus.
- Because we require it in such small amounts Zinc is easy to overdose on. This can result in impaired uptake of copper and mess around with iron. It can also lead to reduced immune function and lower good cholesterol levels.
Overdoing The Vitamins
- Excess amounts of Vitamin C can’t kill you but it can make you very uncomfortable indeed by causing headaches, insomnia, heartburn and gastrointestinal problems. It’s also been linked to kidney stones.
- Vitamin A in excessive doses can also cause similar symptoms plus blurry vision, dizziness, loss of hair, skin problems like excessive itching and scales, osteoporosis and liver damage. Studies have also shown that smokers who consume too much Vitamin A increase their chances of lung cancer. And if you consume too much in a very short space of time you can get a condition called acute hypervitaminosis.
- Vitamin E is an anti coagulant so an excess of this vitamin could cause bleeding and clotting problems.
- Too much vitamin D affects levels of calcium in the blood, which can lead to mental issues like confusion as well as gastrointestinal problems, weight loss and weakness.
- Vitamin B6 taken in very high doses can cause nerve damage in the limbs.
If you’re thinking about taking a vitamin and mineral supplement, have a look at your diet instead because most, if not all health professionals will recommend that you first try and obtain what you require in your diet before resorting to supplements. This is by far the most natural and the most beneficial way to get all the vitamins, minerals and trace elements you require for good health. The article Are Vitamin And Mineral Supplements A Good Idea was written by David Cross.