Thanks to great marketing and health shows, the push to take vitamins is greater than ever. But here are a few things you should know.
1) Many vitamins compete for absorption.
Imagine your body is a series of highways. Only certain vitamins and minerals can go down certain highways and there are only so many lanes to each highway. If two vitamins or minerals that use the same highway arrive at the same time, they will compete to be absorbed. This means one of them will not get in (or at least not as much). A few examples?
- Fiber supplements can bind with most vitamins and minerals and be excreted.
- Zinc supplements can effect how much iron you will absorb from iron supplements.
- Doses of vitamin C greater than 500mg can effect the absorption of B12.
- Many multivitamins are so overloaded with vitamins that the vitamins within bind with one another preventing you from absorbing a good chunk of them.
On the other hand, some vitamins improve each others absorption rate such as vitamin D helping calcium. So before you pop a whole handful of vitamins, be sure to talk to a health professional to make sure you are not wasting your time taking the wrong ones at the wrong time.
2) You can overdose on vitamins.
Our bodies have limits, so there is only so much of any vitamin or mineral the body can hold. Many vitamins when taken in too high of a dose will just be excreted out in the urine (say hello to that expensive urine going down the toilet folks!). But some vitamins and minerals don't have the luxury of this. They are what we call 'fat soluble vitamins'. This means that they mix with fat and not water, so they have to go through different systems in the body and can't get out of through urine. The body might be able to purge some but often these types of vitamins can build up in the body more easily in things like the muscles and liver. To give you an example, excessive vitamin A supplementation can be harmful to your liver.
3) Most of us don't need vitamin supplements.
Our bodies are designed to absorb vitamins from food. It is what our body understands. If we eat a well balanced diet, most if not all necessary vitamins can be obtained. Now there are circumstances where supplements are needed such as a restrictive diet that prevents you from getting certain vitamins (like a vegan needing B12) or having a disorder that reduces certain vitamin stores in your body (like anemia). But for the general healthy public, a well balanced diet will meet your needs. There is a reason vitamins and minerals come in food and that is because our bodies need certain substances found in food to help us breakdown and absorb all these wonderul vitamins and minerals.
4) A supplement will not fix your crappy diet.
One of my favorite fitness experts Paul Chek said it best: "Vitamins are like nails. Even if you have nails made of gold, if the wood you are building your boat out of is shitty, it will still sink." So vitamins do not compensate for a bad diet. If you are not getting enough fiber and other necessary things from what you eat, chances are you won't absorb much of the vitamins in the supplement anyways. FOOD FIRST!
So to sum it up, the message behind this post is not trying to say no one should take vitamins, it is saying most of us don't need to. The key is to eat as healthy as possible and if necessary take a vitamin to meet needs that cannot be met with food.
So look over your vitamins and decide what is really essential and what is just increasing the value of your urine stream.