Vitamins: Enough is Enough?
Vitamins are organic compounds occurring naturally in foods or as additives. They are necessary in small amounts for the energy required for growth and development.
To what extent do people need vitamins? Should we take “extra” vitamins in the form of pills? Do vitamins help us gain weight? These are among the frequently asked questions about vitamins. Many answers are not clear-cut, and there are many commonly believed fallacies.
The principal requirements for supporting biological systems are vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K, folic acid and pantothenic acid. The average diet supplies all of these in more than sufficient amounts, making extra vitamins often unnecessary.
Vitamins are not only compounds of all foods, but some are made by the body. Vitamin K, for instance, is produced by intestinal bacteria. Almost all vitamins in excess of required amounts pass through the body. Unfortunately for some people, the human body does not store most of the “extra” vitamins consumed. The only vitamins it does store are A, D, E and K.
Another misconception is that vitamin pills will help with weight gain. This is not true because vitamins have no caloric value. For those people who can eat and eat and eat without ever putting on weight, vitamins will not help.
To what extent should a doctor prescribe multivitamin preparations? Generally, if specific deficiencies are suspected, those lacking nutrients should be replaced. At times when food intake has been poor, particularly during severe illnesses, a multivitamin preparation is justified. Otherwise, for anyone consuming food in a normal diet, additional vitamins are usually not necessary.
In general, most physicians prescribe, with justification, supplements to children in the first years of life — fluoride, for instance, in areas where there is no natural source. Also, when babies are getting used to food and do not yet have a totally balanced diet, supplementary vitamins may help prevent deficiencies.
Specific vitamins and vitamin groups reputedly can prevent or help cure certain medical conditions. Irritability, pregnancy and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) have been shown responsive to large doses of B complex vitamins. I personally believe that large doses of vitamin C can prevent or shorten the duration of the common cold.
Unless someone is a vitamin fanatic, overdose is rarely a problem. Overdosage of vitamin A and D can cause severe illness, and even death. Hypervitaminosis A results in abnormal brain symptoms, loss of hair, skin changes, insomnia, tiredness and bone and joint pain. Excess vitamin D intake can lead to loss of appetite and severe weight loss, vomiting, dehydration and mental confusion.
Vitamins certainly have their place in treating specific medical conditions, but general usage in the presence of a fairly normal diet is not necessary. Health-care practitioners are the best source of information on whether or not someone can benefit from any nutritional supplement.