What Makes Some Vitamins More Dangerous than OthersNutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
As a young adult, I used to get obsessed with whether I was eating well and taking an appropriate amount of supplements. The problem was I rarely concerned myself with whether I was taking too much of certain vitamins and minerals. I now know there may be health consequences to getting more than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of any of the six nutrients, which include minerals, vitamins, proteins, fats, carbohydrates and water. I discussed the problems associated with over-consuming minerals in “Minerals: The Forgotten Nutrient.”
Let’s now take a look at vitamins. How much is too much?
The answer may depend on whether you’re taking water soluble or fat soluble vitamins, because they’re processed differently in your body.
Water soluble vitamins (vitamin C and vitamin B-complexes) dissolve in water. This means they enter the bloodstream soon after taking them and are dispersed around your body. Any excess is usually processed like typical waste and excreted. This does not mean there is not any harm done to our bodies from the excess. Excess vitamin C consumption may cause diarrhea, kidney stones and gastric discomfort. Too much vitamin C may also reduce the effectiveness of certain medications like Tylenol.
Similarly, excess vitamin B6 may be harmful and cause severe nerve damage, nausea and extreme sensitivity to sunlight. Excess vitamin B3 may cause skin flushes.
On the other hand, fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) are dissolved in fat solvents and oils, not water, and can’t freely move around the body like water soluble vitamins. Instead of being flushed out when your body has enough of these, they are generally stored in the liver and fat tissues. That means it’s easier to have dangerous levels of these fat soluble vitamins in your system if you take supplements or eat too much of one food, according to Anthony Komaroff, Harvard Medical School.
Excess vitamin A may cause nausea, headache, drowsiness, blurred vision, loss of appetite, dizziness and dry skin.
Your body regulates the amount of vitamin D produced from sun exposure, but it’s important to regulate doses of vitamin D supplements. Excess vitamin D may result in a buildup of calcium in your blood, which can cause poor appetite, nausea, vomiting and muscle weakness.
Excess vitamin E may increase the risk of bleeding by reducing the blood’s ability to form clots after a cut or injury. It may also increase the risk of bleeding in the brain and prostate cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Because vitamin K also helps with blood clotting, an excess of vitamin K may cause hemolytic anemia, which destroys red blood cells before their normal lifespan is over. It may also cause jaundice in newborns.
How can we be proactive?
Educate yourself about what each vitamin does, and get yourself tested to know exactly how much of each vitamin you personally need. Testing will help prevent the chance of unwelcome side effects from taking too many fat soluble vitamins.
Know the foods from which you can get these vitamins.
- Vitamin C is needed to make collagen, which is a protein that keeps your bones, skin, teeth and blood vessels healthy. It also keeps your immune system healthy. Eat fruits and veggies such as oranges, red peppers, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, grapefruit, guava and strawberries.
- Vitamin B – All B vitamins help your body convert food into fuel for energy. B-complex vitamins also help the body use fats and proteins. They are also needed for a healthy liver, skin, hair, eyes and nervous system.
Here are the 8 essential B-vitamins:
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2) works as an antioxidant and may prevent damage from free radicals. Beef liver, lamb, milk, yogurt, mushrooms, spinach and almonds are good sources of this vitamin.
- Pyridoxine (vitamin B6) helps the body make neurotransmitters and is needed for brain development and function. This vitamin also helps make mood and sleep-regulating hormones. Bananas, chicken breast, spinach, hazelnuts, salmon and tuna are rich in vitamin B6.
- Vitamin B12 is important for a healthy nervous system and blood cells, helps make DNA and is critical for neurological function. You can test your vitamin B12 levels to determine how much your body needs. Vitamin B12 is mostly found in animal food and fortified foods. Have beef liver, clams, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products and some fortified breakfast cereals.
- Niacin (vitamin B3) helps the body make sex and stress-related hormones and improves circulation and inflammation, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). Good sources of niacin include beets, peanuts, sunflower seeds, fish, beef liver and kidney and brewer’s yeast. (Before you go to happy hour, know you can benefit from brewer’s yeast in beer in moderation, but it is also found in bread. Although vitamin B3 deficiency is rare, alcoholism is the main cause of this type of deficiency in the United States).
- Folate helps maintain the health of red blood cells. The body needs folate to create DNA, and folate helps prevent birth defects during early pregnancy. Dark leafy greens, asparagus, citrus fruit and avocado are all rich in folate.
- Thiamine (vitamin B1) helps strengthen the immune system and can improve the body’s ability to withstand stress, according to UMMC. This vitamin is found in pork, beef, poultry, whole-grain cereal and rice, yeast and nuts.
- Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) helps the body use vitamin B2 among other vitamins and helps keep a healthy digestive track, makes red blood cells and creates sex-related hormones. Have chicken, duck, turkey, lobster, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, broccoli, salmon or avocado to get more of this vitamin in your daily diet.
- Biotin (vitamin B7) helps calm and maintain a healthy nervous system, helps cells grow and is important during pregnancy. Good sources of biotin include eggs, chicken, fish, nuts and oatmeal.
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Enjoy your healthy life!
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