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Vitamin Supplements: Should They Be Taken?

Updated on July 17, 2013
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Vitamin Myth Buster

"I know vegetables are good for you, but they just taste to bad. I'll just take a vitamin supplement, then I'll get the nutrients I need. It's the same thing right?"

False: The vitamins in supplements are not the same as the naturally occurring vitamins found in food sources. The vitamins in supplements are synthetically produced from surprising sources such as petroleum extracts, coal tar derivatives, acids, and industrial chemicals like formaldehyde. The absorption rates of supplements are noticeably lower than absorption rates in natural foods such as vegetables. But don't get me wrong, vitamin supplements can become very handy when you're suffering but a deficiency or if you want to buffer up your nutrition intake. Just keep in mind that it will not take care of 100% of your nutritional needs and it is still extremely important to eat health nutrient-rich foods to sustain a healthy body.

Vitamins

Vitamin A

Vitamin A promotes good vision, cell growth, and strengthens the immune system. Vitamin A comes from plants and animals and are known as beta-carotene and retinoid respectively. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin A is 3,000 IU a day (equivalent to 900 micro-grams). It is recommend to eat foods containing fat when taking this supplement because it is fat-soluble and will be optimally absorbed when done so. Vitamin A is required to effectively absorb iron so a deficiency in this vitamin may indirectly result in anemia. Excess vitamin A will negatively effect absorption rates of vitamin K which is essential for blood clotting. In the United States vitamin A deficiency is rare. Taking in more than 10,000 IU a day may result in adverse side effects such as dizzies and headaches. However overdosing on vitamin A rarely occurs when absorbing on food-only sources.

Conclusion: Forgo the vitamin A supplement unless it is included in a multivitamin supplement or if you have a vitamin A deficiency.

Vitamin B6

This vitamin is naturally found in many types of food, it is used in over 100 enzyme reactions regarding metabolism. Poultry, fish, and organ meats are good sources of vitamin B6 as well as starchy vegetables and non-citrus fruits. Vitamin B6 deficiency is rare, but those with auto-immune disorders and kidney dysfunctions are at a higher risk for vitamin B6 deficiency. Lack of vitamin B6 may result in: anemia, itchy rashes, scaly skin on lips, and a swollen tongue. Research shows that elderly people with high levels of this vitamin have better memory. It's nearly impossible to overdose from vitamin B6 unless taking supplements.

Conclusion: Don't take it unless you have a vitamin B6 deficiency.

Foods High In Vitamin A and B6

Dried apricots are easy to pack and a great snack food. Just 100 grams will provide 72% DV of vitamin A.
Dried apricots are easy to pack and a great snack food. Just 100 grams will provide 72% DV of vitamin A. | Source
Cantaloupe are also a great source of vitamin A. A 100 gram serving will provide 68% DV of vitamin A. Same goes for other yellow/orange melons.
Cantaloupe are also a great source of vitamin A. A 100 gram serving will provide 68% DV of vitamin A. Same goes for other yellow/orange melons. | Source
This dark orange squash isn't widely known. It has a nutty and sweet flavor when baked and it provides 223% DV of vitamin A per 100 gram serving.
This dark orange squash isn't widely known. It has a nutty and sweet flavor when baked and it provides 223% DV of vitamin A per 100 gram serving.
Not only do hazelnuts provide 31% DV of vitamin B6 per 100 gram serving, it also provides a great source of potassium and copper. Not to mention it's the perfect snack for those on the go.
Not only do hazelnuts provide 31% DV of vitamin B6 per 100 gram serving, it also provides a great source of potassium and copper. Not to mention it's the perfect snack for those on the go. | Source
Garlic is known for being heart healthy but not many know that it also provides a whopping 84% DV in a 100 gram serving. It is great for seasoning in soup, sauces, and condiments.
Garlic is known for being heart healthy but not many know that it also provides a whopping 84% DV in a 100 gram serving. It is great for seasoning in soup, sauces, and condiments. | Source

Vitamin Myth Buster

Vitamins don't expire, it doesn't matter how long you've had them or how old they are.

False: Over time vitamins lose their potency by up to 10 to 20 percent. Out-of-date vitamin supplements do not turn toxic, but over the years it'll become medicinally useless. So refrain from buying three bottles containing 500 supplements each just because they were on sale.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient for maintaining blood and nerve cell health, it also aids in DNA replication during cell division. Consuming vitamin B12 will prevent megaloblastic anemia which causes people to feel weak and tired. When vitamin B12 is consumed, it travels to the stomach where the hydrochloric acid in the stomach seperates vitamin B12 from a protein it is attached to. Then the nutrient is combined into another protein made by the stomach. People with pernicious anemia can't make this protein and may have trouble absorbing vitamin B12. If this is the case, a direct vitamin B12 injection is suggested. A low number of people in the United States have this deficiency, symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are: weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss, and nerve problems such as numbness and tingling in the hands and feet.

Conclusion: It's not particularly advised to take B12 supplements unless you have a deficiency, but taking a supplement shouldn't be harmful even if you don't have a deficiency because high levels of B12 are required before negative effects come in play.


Vitamin C

Most likely you're very familiar with this type of supplement, bringing back memories of stuffed noses, sore throats, and reaching for a vitamin C pill in hopes of lessening the symptoms. Besides the obvious effects of boosting your immune system it is also used to maintain bones, blood, and muscles. It also helps in absorbing iron and allowing the formation of collagen in your body. Naturally we'd think that taking vitamin C supplements will reduce our symptoms when we're sick because it boosts our immune system right? However over the past decade many studies are conducted on whether it truly helped or not and the results have been inconsistent, it is still widely debated today. In one study researchers tested if taking 200 milligrams or more could reduce the severity of a cold. The results showed that taking the supplement after the symptoms appeared had no effect. However those who took the supplements on a regular daily basis had the cold for a shorter duration by 8% and 14% in adults and children respectively. The RDA for vitamin C is 90 milligrams and 75 milligrams for men and women respectively. A small 2" 3/8" orange provides 80 milligrams of vitamin C. As you can see, taking in an adequate amount of vitamin C is relatively easy. Taking over 2000 milligrams of vitamin C a day per adults will result in kidney stones, nausea, and diarrhea however.

Conclusion: We don't know for sure if vitamin C supplements are effective or not. However it is very easy to get an adequate intake of vitamin C so vitamin C deficiency is not a major concern for most people which means it may not be necessary to take a vitamin C supplement.

Richest Sources of Vitamins

Vitamin A
Vitamin B6
Vitamin B12
Vitamin C
Turkey Liver - 1,507% per 100g serving
Bran (Rice and Wheat) - 200% per 100g serving
Clams, Oysters, and Mussels - 1,648% per 100g serving
Chili Peppers - 404% per 100g serving
Sweet Potatoes - 384% per 100g serving
Pistachios - 64% per 100g serving
Lamb Liver - 1,482% per 100g serving
Guava - 381% per 100g serving
Carrots - 334% per 100g serving
Raw Garlic - 62% per 100g serving
Caviar - 940% per 100g serving
Bell Peppers - 201% per 100g serving
Source

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps maintain healthy and strong bones by aiding in the absorption of calcium. It is also needed for muscular contractions/movement and helps nerves send messages. A lack of vitamin D results in soft and brittle bones known as rickets in children. It is advised to take vitamin D before taking a calcium supplement to optimize calcium absorption. Vitamin D is also produced by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight so taking a walk outside may help, but refrain of overexposure from sunlight as it increases risk of skin cancer.

Conclusion: There's a not-so-large not-so-small amount of people who have this deficiency, and overdoses are extremely rare. Taking a vitamin D supplement is suggested in elderly people to prevent osteoporosis, and those who are mostly indoors and have minimal exposure to sunlight. It is also suggested for those who have vitamin D supplement (that's a no brainer).

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient that acts as an antioxidant by protecting the cells in our body from free radicals. Free radicals are made when food is converted into energy within our body and when exposed to sunlight, air pollution, and cigarette smoke. It also widens blood vessels, lessening the chance of an internal blood clot. Along with vitamin A and vitamin C, it boosts the immune system by combating bacteria and viruses. Rich sources are found in green vegetables, vegetable oils, and nuts. The typical American diet provides less than recommended amounts of vitamin E but is still enough to prevent a deficiency. People with diseases that prevent proper fat digestion and absorbtion such as Cronh's disease are at a higher risk for this deficiency.

Conclusion: Take the supple as most American diets don't reach the recommended amount. The chances of overdosing are very low but if it still concerns you then take the supplement every other day instead.

Vitamin K

This nutrient promotes blood clots to prevent excessive bleeding from puncture wounds. There is vitamin K1 and vitamin K2, which are found in leafy greens and dairy products respectively The supplement form of the vitamin is composed of mainly vitamin K1. Deficiencies are rarely occurring in adults but common in newborns, so a single vitamin K injection is typically given. The vitamin K may also balance an overdose on certain blood thinners such as Coumadin. Vitamin K deficiency is uncommon unless you have a digestive disorder or drink alcohol frequently. A single cup of vitamin K contains over 1,00)% of the DV, which can be an easy alternative to taking a vitamin K supplement.

Conclusion: If you need more vitamin K then just eat more leafy greens, but if that's not viable for some reason then take a supplement. But for most people, there is a need to take a vitamin K supplement.

Richest Sources of Vitamins

Vitamin D
Vitamin E
Vitamin K
Raw Atlantic Herring - 271% per 100g serving
Sunflower Seeds - 222% per 100g serving
Dried Basil - 2,173% per 100g serving
Canned Salmon - 127% per 100g serving
Almonds - 175% per 100g serving
Chopped Kale - 1,103% per 100g serving
Pickled Herring - 115% per 100g serving
Pine Nuts - 62% per 100g serving
Dandelion Greens - 525% per 100g serving

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