Not getting enough vitamins through your diet can cause various health issues, cause us to function poorly, and thwart our ability to fend off diseases. For thousands of years, man didn’t know the connection between their diets and diseases and ailments. Then the ancient Egyptians learned they could cure night blindness by eating liver (which is high in Vitamin A), later it was discovered in the 1700’s that eating citrus (Vitamin C) could prevent scurvy in sailors on long voyages. It wasn’t until 1912, however, that vitamins were actually discovered when Dr. Casimir Funk detected active properties in rice husks. Finally in 1935 Swiss scientists found a way to synthesize Vitamin C and the vitamin industry was born. That same year marketing begin of the “vitamin pill” under the name Redoxon, a vitamin C supplement. Fast forward 81 years, Rexodon is still on the shelves and the vitamin and supplement industry has grown to $104 billion globally; grounded on the fact that vitamins can prevent diseases and make us healthier in nearly every way we can imagine. Vitamin deficiencies can be extremely detrimental to our health. Lack of certain vitamins can cause anything from bad skin to death. However, what many fail to realize is that too much of a certain vitamin can cause big problems of its own. While in centuries past we had to be concerned only with not getting enough, now that supplemental vitamins are readily available, overtaking them and getting too much is also a concern. The goal is not to get enough vitamins, but rather, to get the optimal amount for your particular body.
What happens if you are getting too much of a particular vitamin?
First you must understand that your body can only use a certain amount of any vitamin to its benefit, and anything above this becomes a liability. The vitamins need to be available in the body for use when it needs them, but it’s not possible to force vitamins into your system and get an exponentially positive effect. As in many other life situations, there is a such thing as too much of a good thing here. That is, your body will only vitamins as it needs them (some it can synthesize itself) to perform a particular function. If it doesn’t have enough of a vitamin, the body process will not be optimally completed and our health will suffer. However, once it gets enough to perform that function, the rest of that free-floating vitamin in the body becomes a liability as it must be processed and purged from the system. The process of disposing of overabundant vitamins in the system is primarily done by the liver and kidneys, and while a little bit extra is no big deal and is processed and disposed of with ease, if there is far too much of something, this can stress the liver and kidney and actually make us unhealthy. Health conditions associated with excessive amounts of vitamins can vary widely.
How do you know if you are getting too much?
Below are several of the most popular vitamins that are likely to be taken in excess and what symptoms may manifest by taking too much:
Vitamin C: Too much can cause nausea, diarrhea, insomnia, kidney stones and more.
Vitamin D: Excess Vitamin D can cause a buildup of calcium in your blood, which can cause poor appetite, nausea and vomiting. Weakness, frequent urination and kidney problems also may occur.
Vitamin B (complex): Overabundance over time leads to blurry vision, nausea and vomiting, numbness, high blood sugar, liver problems and skin lesions
Iron: Too much can cause severe liver damage, fatigue, irregular heartbeat, joint pain and more. Excess iron can actually be fatal.
Zinc: Too much can cause lowering of HDL (good) cholesterol and digestive issues.
Calcium: Clinical studies have shown that too much calcium over an extended period of time can cause increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
What can you do to make sure you don’t overdo it?
It’s very unlikely that you can get too much of a vitamin from food alone, but for supplement users who also eat healthy and get more nutrition from food, the cumulative vitamins adds up quick. One of the most common situations is taking multiple supplements without realizing they duplicate a particular vitamin. Here are a few pointers to make sure you aren’t taking too much of any vitamin:
Know what’s in your multi: Often, your multivitamin will have plenty of a number of different vitamins. Familiarize yourself with what is in your multi and be sure not to duplicate this with other supplements.
Spread out vitamin intake: Toxicity can happen in two ways, acute or long term. Long term overexposure is when your general diet has too much of a vitamin and you take a moderately excessive amount for weeks or months. Also of concern is acute overexposure. That is, taking too much of a vitamin all at once. For instance, many people will load with 2-3000mg of Vitamin C when they feel a cold coming on. This is actually way too much for the body to process at once. A much better strategy is to spread this out and take 500mg 3-4 times per day, several hours apart.
Watch your foods: If you are eating lots of a vitamin rich food, like dairy for calcium and vitamin D, or citrus for vitamin C, you may be hurting yourself by taking a supplement on top of this. Be conscious of what you eat and the vitamin content of each before you add a supplement.
Identify your needs: A few vitamins are deficient in the average American diet. Most American adults are deficient in Vitamins A, D, E and magnesium, 49% are deficient in calcium and 43% are deficient in Vitamin C. With that said, half of Americans don’t take any vitamin supplements and don’t eat that well either. If you are reading this article, however, you are most likely health conscious, eating better, and exercising more than the average American, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t deficient. Exercise and other factors deplete more vitamins and require you to take more to function optimally. In addition to this, different demographics have varying needs for vitamin intake, and athletes in particular have a blanket need for more vitamins. So know your particular needs. There are several programs and guidelines available that can provide a customized strategy for your individualized vitamin intake.
Overall, vitamin supplements have been a boon to our health over nearly the past century. They have prevented millions of diseases and improved quality of life as well. With that said, they are powerful and need to be used with judgement and intelligence. Create a solid strategy for your vitamin intake to ensure it is optimal for your individual application.