ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Are Vitamins Bad for You?

Updated on November 9, 2011
Do vitamins need the same respect as any other medicine?
Do vitamins need the same respect as any other medicine?

We all know vitamins are an essential part of a healthy diet, without them we can develop any number of unpleasant ailments. It is therefore little wonder that there is a multi-billion dollar industry catering to our insecurities about whether we are meeting our dietary requirements. Whilst government rules on the sales of vitamins are far more relaxed than other pharmaceuticals several recent studies have highlighted the potential dangers of too much of a good thing. In extreme cases the evidence suggests that some supplements may not just waste your money, they could cost you your health. In this article I will look at some of the potential harmful effects and likelihood of side effects on some of the most commonly taken vitamin supplements.

Vitamin A

As a fat-soluble vitamin A may be stored in the liver where it can reach toxic levels. Naturally occurring dietary sources include liver and carrots, both of which in excess can prove fatal. Overdosing on vitamin A is known as Hypervitaminosis A with symptoms such as dry skin, nausea, fatigue, weakness and headaches. Whilst the most common source of excessive dietary intake is vitamin supplements there have been cases of carrot addiction recorded. In one such case the victim had turned bright yellow and developed cirrhosis of the liver after drinking up to eight pints of carrot juice a day. Clearly this is an extreme case but it does highlight the potential toxic effects of certain vitamins.

Vitamin C

Ascorbic acid is water soluble and therefore must be constantly replenished. Its role in healing is well known and it is also a powerful antioxidant helping defend the body. Whilst the chances of causing oneself significant harm through taking vitamin C are fairly small there are certain side effects linked to large dosages. The most common of these is diarrhoea which results from doses in excess of 2 grams, that is around 50 times the normal recommended daily intake (RDI).

Of course too little vitamin C can result in scurvy, a condition popular with 18th century sailors!

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is largely acquired from daylight. In this context there has never been a report of overdosing on it. Given the high additional dietary intake required to cause side effects it is unlikely that most healthy adults would unwittingly consume this. There are however certain conditions that make one far more sensitive to vitamin D such as primary hyperparathyroidism. The most significant condition resulting from excessive Vitamin D intake is hypercalcemia – raised blood calcium levels. Whilst this may result in renal failure amongst other symptoms, there is also a serious risk to the development of unborn babies. For this reason both pregnant or breastfeeding women are advised to consult a doctor before taking vitamin D supplements.

Vitamin E

Like vitamin A, vitamin E is fat-soluble so can be stored in the body. Whilst there is no particular clinical syndrome linked with deficiency of intake it is linked to brain and nervous system health. In combination with vitamin C it is reported that vitamin E can reduce the risk of certain heart conditions. Vitamin E is also an antioxidant which implies certain anti-cancer properties amongst other preventative roles, e.g. Alzheimer’s.

However, even moderately excessive intake (2 times RDI) has been reported to cause adverse effects. Far from being beneficial, these higher doses have been linked to increased risk of death in two separate studies. The most recent of these (2011) suggests that a daily dose of vitamin E could actually increase a man's risk of prostate cancer. Named the SELECT trial this was a ten year double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 35,0000 subjects originally intended to demonstrate that vitamin E and selenium reduced risk of prostate cancer. What the researchers actually found was an increased incidence of prostate cancer by 17 percent among men who took a daily dose of 400 IU. Despite this evidence one brand of Vitamin E is still sold with a label claiming "Supports prostate health."


Even multivitamins may not be the elixir they are claimed to be. A 20 year longitudinal study by the University of Minnesota of nearly 40,000 older women (mean age 62) taking vitamin B6, folic acid, magnesium, zinc, copper and iron found evidence to suggesting these supplements might actually raise the death rate of older women. Whilst the data was observational / self reported the increased risk was 2.4%. The suggested explanation is that these substances are toxic in high amounts. So in addition to an adequate dietary intake levels of any one of these substances may be excessive and accumulate.

Conclusion: are any supplements safe?

There is no doubt we need vitamins to survive but it seems clear that excess has no benefit and may even be detrimental to our health. With today’s high dietary intakes the idea of individuals being deficient in a particular vitamin or mineral seems less likely. If one’s diet is reasonable then taking vitamin supplements has the potential to result in an accumulation of what can be toxic substances.

It is safe to say that the best way to receive all your necessary nutrients is a good, balanced diet. Simple steps such as increasing intake of fruit and vegetables can provide a more natural, high quality source of nutritional essentials. On top of this they contain nutrients that are not available in a jar such as phytochemicals which may have cancer-fighting antioxidant effects.

However, there are certain groups who can benefit from popping pills and these include women planning to get pregnant (folic acid), those who are housebound and see little sunlight (vitamin D), vegans who do not eat meat or dairy (vitamin B12) and athletes in training. For the rest of us the general advice is eat sensibly and save your money.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • livingpah2004 profile image


      7 years ago from USA

      Since I am taking so many vitamins, glad to read this hub. Great information. Voted up!

    • surfgatinho profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Leather 

      7 years ago from Cornwall UK

      Thanks LondonLady. It's part of my HubPages persona to play Devil's advocate to common sense!

    • Londonlady profile image

      Laura Writes 

      7 years ago

      Wow, this is a perfect hub to contrast mine. Even the titles are opposite haha. I like this though, it brings out an important side, especially if someone OD's. I think I'll link this in my vitamin hub. Thanks for the useful info :) Voted up and useful

    • surfgatinho profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Leather 

      7 years ago from Cornwall UK

      Thanks Dinkan

    • dinkan53 profile image


      7 years ago from India

      Informative and useful hub.increase your fruit and vegetable consumption in place of pills. These are the foods that are nutrient rich, vitamin rich and mineral rich and moreover they contain many other plant substances, known as phytochemicals, which cannot be made into a pill.

      Congratulations for your 10th published hub and for 1000 page views.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)