If you walk into any supermarket, department store or drug store you will find row after row of Vitamins and supplements. You'll see so many different kinds and brands. Some are multi-vitamins and some are for specific things. I've even see vitamins targeting the eyes, fingernails and hair growth. It's very confusing. How do you determine what vitamins you need, and in what quantities? Let me give you a little primer on vitamins before we move on. In the simplest terms vitamins are; "organic compounds required as a nutrient in tiny amounts by any organism." Some of these compounds are synthesized by our own bodies, while most must come from our diets or through vitamins in manufactured forms. Remember that vitamins are different from other essential nutrients including, dietary minerals, essential fatty acids, and essential amino acids. These are required in greater quantities, and we receive almost all of them from our diets.
I have excluded minerals from this discussion. Minerals are elements originating in soil and absorbed by plants. They cannot be created by living organisms. They include such things as calcium, Zinc, magnesium, iron, potassium, and sodium. They are also important to us in small quantities. As with vitamins be careful, and follow the rules below.
There are currently (13) vitamins which are universally recognized. They include the fat soluble vitamins which include A, D, E, and K. Fat soluble vitamins are those that are absorbed by the intestinal track and are stored in the body. This means that you don't have to ingest these vitamins every day unless you have a medical condition that requires more.
There are (9) water soluble vitamins. These include: B-1, B-2, B-3, B-5, B-6, B-7, B-9, B-12, and K-1. Water soluble vitamins are those that cannot be stored by the body, and are excreted every day. It is important that these vitamins are replaced every day either through our diet or through supplements.
All the different vitamins have different purposes and functions. and are utilized by our bodies in different ways. I won't get into the individual functions,, but remember that each is important. I will mention the importance of D for mineral metabolism, A for regulating cell and tissue growth, and E and C which are antioxidants which protect our cells from the damage caused by free radicals.
We all know that our bodies need vitamins. We also know that people are different and require various vitamins in differing quantities. The question is; how much is too much, and which ones do I need? Let me give you a list of general rules to get you started. Just remember that these are general rules. You may have special conditions in your own life that may be different. See your Doctor if you have additional questions or concerns. These rules are based on my own knowledge, observations and experiences.
1. Vitamins are essential for good health.
We all now are bodies require vitamins. You may have heard of Avitaminosis which is a chronic or long-term vitamin deficiency or a defect in your body which will not allow for certain fat soluble vitamins to be produced. We've all heard of scurvy which is a deficiency of vitamin C. Rickets can be caused by a lack of vitamin A, night blindness for deficiencies of A and the lack of blood coagulation by low levels of vitamin K.
2. It is difficult to get all our vitamins through are diet.
If we eat a balanced healthy diet every day we can get most of our vitamin requirements, but in today's hectic world it's often hard to do. Some of us due to our age, level of activity or deficiencies often need extra vitamins. We also get a lot of our vitamin D from sunlight. Often in the winter we may need extra supplements.
3. Our body's storage of vitamins is limited.
As I noted above nine vitamins are not stored by our bodies. We need to get them in our bodies every day either through our diet or through supplements. Restrictive diets often limit our daily ingestion of vitamins.
4. Age appropriate vitamins.
Depending on our age, our vitamin needs vary. We go through two phases of vitamin requirements. They are our growing stage and our maintaining stage. Both are equally important. As infants, children and teenagers our bodies are growing. We have special needs for the growth of skin, bone and muscle. If we don't get all our required vitamins in our diets we need extra supplements. As we age we reach a stage of maintaining our bodies. It should be noted that as we get older are vitamin requirements will change. A seventy year old woman doesn't have the same vitamin requirements as a thirty year old man. It has been found that as we age our need for vitamins actually increases. This is especially true for Vitamin D and Vitamin B-12.
5. Absorption of vitamins varies.
The absorption of vitamins is related to our age. The older you get the harder it is for your body to absorb vitamins. Exposure to sunlight varies which determines vitamin D intake. Absorption of vitamins can also be affected by smoking, consumption of alcohol and prescribed or over-the-counter medications.
6. Needs may change with special activities.
It should be noted that your activity level will affect your type and quantity of vitamins. A marathon runner or a swimmer will have different requirements than a couch potato.
7. Be careful of overdoses.
In 2008 there were 68,911 reported overdoses of vitamins. Of this number over 80% involved children under six. Be very careful of how many you take, and keep them away from children. The fat soluble vitamins are the ones which have the greatest chance of overdosing on, because the body stores them, unlike the water soluble ones which are excreted. Minerals can be just as dangerous. A few years ago I was taking large quantities of Zinc to help with my acne. I got a severe reaction from ingesting too much. Some of the signs of overdosing include; nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Always check with your Doctor before starting a regimen involving vitamins or minerals.
8. General rule.
Personally I am not a proponent of mega doses of vitamins. As stated before fat soluble vitamins are retained by the body. The water soluble ones are excreted daily, but our needed in smaller amounts. I do believe that everyone should take one age appropriate multi-vitamin daily. I take one Centrum Silver mulit-vitamin each day. As long as I eat a balanced diet, I'm fine. Unless you have special needs one pill a day is enough. Make sure that any vitamin you take is compatible with any medication. Your Doctor can answer these questions. Some people have told me that they don't need vitamins, because they eat a balanced diet. In today's world it's hard to get all our vitamins and minerals, because foods have changed. Most of today's foods have been engineered and are of a lesser variety than years ago. Today's fruits and vegetables are bigger and look better, but in most cases are less nutritious. An exception to this is "Heirloom" fruits and vegetables. In conclusion; one multi-vitamin a day is all most of us need if we eat a balanced diet.