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Too Much of a Good Thing!

by Jennifer Ordway

Confused about all the vitamins you see today? Multivitamins, megavitamins, super-ultra-mega-vitamins -- what should we choose? If you read the label on these supplements, you may find it startling to see many provide way more than 100% of the your daily recommended allowance. In fact, 150%, 300% or even 1000% of some vitamins and minerals are not uncommon! Is this really needed? Can you get too much of a good thing?

To discover the answer to this question, it's necessary to learn a bit more about how vitamins are broken down and used by the body. There are 2 types of vitamins: fat soluble and water soluble. Fat soluble vitamins include A, D, E, and K. These vitamins, as their description implies, are absorbed along with dietary fat and are stored in your body to use as it wishes. They tend to hang out in your body for awhile (with the exception of K which leaves the body more readily). Water soluble vitamins include virtually all of the rest. Because they are soluble in water, when taken in excess, they generally leave with your urine (with the exception of B-6 and B-12 which can linger a bit longer).

If your body is deficient in a vitamin, you will start showing the signs in about 10 days. On the other hand, if you take extraordinary large doses of a fat soluble vitamin, you could start to experience negative effects within days. Vitamin A toxicity can occur after several days of taking over 100 times the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA). Signs may include GI upset, headache, vomiting, hair loss, coma, and blurred vision. The upper level* is 3000 micrograms. Vitamin D toxicity is most harmful to infants. It can cause mental retardation, growth restrictions, narrowing of pulmonary arteries and the aorta, and changes in facial characteristics.The upper level is 50 micrograms. Vitamin E toxicity can cause hemorrhage effects especially when deficient in vitamin K. The upper level is 1000 micrograms. Finally, vitamin K toxicity is not specified and no upper level is set. Check out this webpage for some more great information!

This might sound complicated and you might wonder how you can possibly maintain a healthy amount of each vitamin in your body. The best way to balance your vitamin levels is to eat a balanced diet! A daily multivitamin can be a good idea, but make sure to read the label. If you see over 100% daily value for any vitamin, (and you haven't been instructed to take extra by your doctor) you're most likely throwing your money down the toilet and maybe even causing yourself harm!

*Upper level is a maximum daily amount of a nutrient that most people can take without adverse effects.

Related Links:

  • Micronutrient Information Center at Oregon State
  • Vitamin and Mineral Guide