Supplemental vitamins and minerals are showing up in more and more in the products we buy every day. They're in our breakfast cereals, energy bars and sodas. Because of all these new "additives," Americans are now in danger of overdosing on something generally considered healthy.
Here's what the two different types of vitamins are and exactly how much most Americans should be taking in every day.
There are two types of vitamins, fat and water-soluble.
Fat-soluble vitamins dissolve in fat and are carried by fat molecules through your body. Without fat in our diet, we would not be able to absorb these vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins are also stored in our body fats, so if we take them in supplements, they can build up to potentially dangerous levels.
A, D, E and K vitamins are fat-soluble.
A - helps with vision, reproduction, immunity and skin growth and maintenance. Overdosing (75,000+ IU/daily or 15,000+ micrograms) can cause nausea, vomiting, headache and increased cerebrospinal pressure. Chronic overdosing can cause hair loss, bone and muscle pain, liver damage and ever birth defects in pregnant women. 33,000 to 50,00 IU a day may increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers.
D - is an antioxidant, boosts immunity and reduces the risks of cancer and heart disease. Overdosing (5,000 10,000+ IU/daily) can cause hypercalcemia, hypercalciuria, kidney stones and soft tissue calcifications.
E - is an antioxidant, but clinical trials haven't worked out. It doesn't protect against heart disease or boost immunity as once believed. In fact, 400 IU a day or more may slightly raise the risk of dying.
K - is responsible for making proteins that allow blood to clot. Overdosing only appears to be a problem for people on anti-clotting medications. Excess K may interfere with anti-clotting medications.
Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water and are carried through your body in the bloodstream. Water-soluble vitamins are not stored in our body (except B-12), so the body uses what it needs then flushes the rest out through your kidneys and ultimately urine.
B and C vitamins are water-soluble.
B1 - is important for proper nerve function and helps produce energy from carbohydrates.
B2 - helps in energy production.
B3 - helps in energy production. B3 is also important for healthy skin, your digestive tract and nervous system. Overdosing can cause nausea, diarrhea and vomiting as well as the dilation of blood vessels and a tingling known as "niacin flush." Chronic overdosing can cause liver damage.
Biotin - helps in energy production and the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
B6 - helps your body make red blood cells, contributes to immunity and nervous system function. It is used to metabolize fats and proteins. Chronic overdosing can cause nerve damage.
Folate - is critical to cells because it helps make DNA and RNA. In pregnant women, it lowers the risk of neural tube defects in the baby. Don't take in more than 1,000 mcg a day from food and supplements because it may raise your cancer risk.
B12 - helps with proper nerve function and converts folate to its active form. B12 also makes red blood cells and helps metabolize fats and protein.
C - is an antioxidant, strengthens blood vessels and capillary walls. C makes collagen and connective tissue, helps form scar tissue and helps the body absorb iron. Overdosing (1000+ milligrams/daily) may cause nausea, cramps and diarrhea. Chronic overdosing may lead to kidney stones.
Minerals are required nutrients that help the body function normally.
Calcium - helps strengthen bones and teeth. It also helps with immunity, muscle contraction, blood clotting and blood pressure. However, men shouldn't take more than 200 mg a day from vitamins because 1,500 mg a day or more TOTAL may raise the risk of getting prostate cancer.
Chloride - aids in digestion and helps with the fluid balance in your body. Overdosing can raise the risk of hypertension in some individuals.
Chromium - helps cells use glucose.
Copper - helps in the manufacture of red blood cells and assists in the absorption of iron.
Floride - helps create bones and teeth. It also helps protect teeth from decay. Overdosing can cause discoloration in teeth.
Iodine - helps regulate growth and metabolic rate.
Iron - carries oxygen in red blood cells and myoglobin in muscle. Overdosing may cause cancer and heart disease.
Magnesium - helps build bones, teeth and proteins. It assists in the proper functioning of nerves, muscles and the immune system.
Manganese - is a part of many body enzymes.
Molybdenum - is part of many body enzymes.
Phosphorus - helps build bones and teeth. Assists in energy creation and is a part of your cell membranes. Overdosing on phosphorus can deplete calcium in the blood.
Potassium - helps balance your bodily fluids and aids in nerve transmission and muscle contraction. Overdosing is rare unless other medical conditions prevent your body from expelling the excess in urine. An overdose is called acute hyperkalemia and can cause cardiac arrest.
Selenium - is an antioxidant and helps promote cell growth. Overdosing can cause skin, hair and nail abnormalities. Some studies have suggested that taking 200 mcg a day can raise the risk of diabetes and skin cancer.
Sodium - helps balance your bodily fluids, and it assists in nerve transmission and muscle contraction. Overdosing can lead to hypertension.
Zinc - is part of many body enzymes. Zinc also assists with tissue growth and wound healing. Overdosing can cause gastric problems and reduced HDL cholesterol.
Here's what you can do to prevent an overdose. Read food labels. If you see that your cereal already has 100% of the United States Recommended Daily Allowance (US RDA), you may not need additional supplements. If you drink a lot of orange juice, you probably don't need extra vitamin C.
Don't take something unless specifically recommended by a doctor after you've been tested and shown to have a deficiency. Multivitamins and supplements are NOT tested for safety. They are NOT tested to make sure they do what they claim.
DO NOT TAKE multivitamins unless prescribed by a doctor for a specific medical condition. They're a waste of money and cause you to die sooner.
UPDATE: Multivitamins may do more harm than good. In the years since we wrote this article, several large studies have shown multivitamins taken regularly may actually kill you sooner. Click here to learn more.
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