VITAMINS- How Much Is Too Much?

Understanding Your Vitamins

Vitamins are always a topic of discussion and confusion. I get asked the question, “How many vitamins should I take?”and “How much is too much?” and “What brand of vitamins are the best?” Because I am to be a Registered Dietitian I can tell you right now, the best way to get your vitamins is through your DIET. Healthy eating & balanced eating is an excellent way to get your vitamins without having to worry about going overboard with the amount of Vitamin A or Vitamin D etc. Some vitamins do have upper limits called Tolerable Upper Intake level or “UL,” this means there is a maximum amount you should intake before it may become toxic to you. Furthermore, some vitamins have dangerous deficiency diseases such as scurvy, rickets, beri beri, night blindness and blood thinning. 

However, I know being only human, we have our faults as well as our certain food habits. This means we may not be getting all the vitamins we need through our diets alone, and therefore,  we rely on supplements for our vitamins. The first thing I tell anybody who asks me about vitamins is that the FDA does not regulate supplements and you can never trust 100% the amount or type of vitamins the package tells you. If you’re still wanting to try supplements, you’re better off going with a brand that is well known, been around the market for years and has a seal of certification approval like GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices),USP (U.S Pharmacopeial Convention), and NSF (National Sanitation Foundation).

Vitamins are called “Micronutrients” because when comparing them to Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats.. we only need a micro amount to go a LONG way in our body. They often times regulate our body systems and act with enzymes to become catalysts. Each vitamin has a different role in our body and collectively, they act together to boost our immunity and cause us to function normally.

Categories of Different Vitamins

There are two different categories of vitamins

  1. Fat soluble: These vitamins obviously dissolve in fat. They are carried throughout your body in the bloodstream and can be stored away to be utilized later. Typically we find  “UL” limits (tolerable upper intake levels) for these vitamins because they are not excreted as fast as  water soluble vitamins. This is also why we need a moderate amount of fat in our diets, to make sure our bodies absorb these 4 key vitamins.
    1. Vitamin A
    2. Vitamin D
    3. Vitamin E
    4. Vitamin K
  2. Water soluble: These vitamins obviously dissolve in water. They are utilized when consumed and excreted when the body is in a surplus. For the most part, these vitamins are not stored in our body and do NOT have a “UL.” However, because these vitamins are not stored in the body, these are the vitamins that we need to consume in our diet or incorporate in a supplement EVERYDAY. 
    1. B-complex Vitamins (B1, B2, B6, B12)
    2. Vitamin C
    3. Niacin
    4. Folate (folic acid)
    5. Biotin
    6. Pantothenic Acid
    7. Choline

Everything You Need To Know About..

FAT SOLUBLE VITAMINS

Vitamin A

  1. Vitamin A: This vitamin is good for a number of different uses. It helps promote good eye vision and prevents night blindness, it promotes growth and health of cells especially during pregnancy or wound healing, it builds immunity and works as an antioxidant to protect against certain aging diseases.
    • Deficiency: If you have a deficiency in this vitamin, the symptoms are night blindness, dry and scaly skin, poor immunity, and poor growth. The deficiency disease is called “Xerophthalmia.”
    • Overdose: Because this is a Fat-Soluble vitamin, having an excess amount can become dangerous. Symptoms of over dosage include headaches, dry and scaly skin, liver damage, pain in the joints and bones, abnormal bone growth, nerve damage, and birth defects. This overdosage typically comes from supplements and NOT through dietary means. The Tolerable Upper Intake Level is 2,800 Micrograms of RAE (14-18 yo) and 3,000 Micrograms RAE (adults).
      • WHY? When we consume Vitamin A through our diet in the form of Carotenoids (Alpha Carotene and Beta Carotene), our body transforms the inactive form to the active form (Vitamin A). When our body has enough  Vitamin A stored, it stops transforming the carotenoids and instead excretes the surplus. However, when we consume a supplement in the active form of Vitamin A, our body can only store it for later and it may reach a dangerous and toxic level.
    • Dietary Sources:
      • Animal sources of Vitamin A come in the form RETINOL and is already in the active form of Vitamin A. Examples include animal organs, liver, eggs, milk fortified with Vitamin A, cereals fortified with Vitamin A.
      • Plant sources of Vitamin A come in the form of Alpha or Beta Carotene and is inactive. Examples include red, orange, yellow and darkgreen leafy vegetables such as 
        • Sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, red bell pepper, & apricots
        • Kale, collard greens, turnip greens, spinach, & romaine lettuce

 

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Vitamin D

  1. Vitamin D: This vitamin may be known as the “healthy bone” vitamin. It helps with almost every part of the body and yes.. promotes the absorption of calcium and phosphorus into your bones to create healthy and strong bones/ teeth. It also helps to regulate cell growth and plays a role in your immunity.
    • Deficiency: deficiency can be caused by either, the lack of vitamin D in your diet or the very real danger of living in the northern hemisphere and not allowed enough sunlight exposure in the wintertime. Symptoms include loss of bone mass or the softening of bones. Osteoporosis and Osteomalacia are very serious effects of Vitamin D deficiencies. Rickets in children is another deficiency disease but rarely seen today because of the fortification of Vitamin D in milk sold at the supermarket.
      • WHY? Your body can actually synthesize this vitamin, which is why it is sometimes referred to as a hormone instead of a vitamin. When sunlight hits your skin, the body starts to synthesize Vitamin D. During the cold winter months especially north of the California and Massachusetts state line, the body does not experience much sunlight and therefore stops producing Vitamin D. If your diet does not consist of much dietary Vitamin D, consider taking a supplement to regain the lost sun exposure during the winter months.
    • Overdose: Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and can be stored. Too much in the body can become toxic to the cells and cause confusion, heart rhythm disorders, & painful kidney stones. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, weight loss, constipation, & weakness. Again, just like Vitamin A, the likelihood of an overdose is usually caused by supplementation and NOT from dietary means. The Tolerable Upper Intake Level is  4,000 IU or 100 Micrograms per day for ages >9 yo.
    • Dietary Sources: 
      • Oily fish such as salmon and tuna (animal based form = D3; cholecalciferol)
      • Foods that are fortified such as milk, yogurt, cheese, cereals, juices, breads and eggs when the chickens are raised on Vitamin D rich feed.
      • Mushrooms can be a great source if they were grown under UV light. This light can boost their vitamin D production just like humans (plant based form = D2; ergocalciferol). 

 

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*1 Microgram of Cholecalciferol (D3: animal based form) = 40 IU vitamin D

 

 

Vitamin E

  1. Vitamin E: This vitamin is also known as an antioxidant. It helps reduce the toxic compounds in your body called free radicals. It also helps to reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol; see post about FATS). Among other things, it also helps the immune system function properly
    • Deficiency: Most people consume enough vitamin E through their diets because it can come in the form of plant oils such as soybean, sunflower, and safflower oil. However, if not enough Vitamin E is consumed, the effects could be long lasting and can cause nerve/muscle damage and decreased immune function. 
    • Overdose: Again, because this vitamin is a fat-soluble vitamin it can be stored in the body and lead to potential problems. If you are taking too many supplements at once and are not paying attention to the amount of Vitamin E it could limit the effect that Vitamin K has- blood clotting. This is potentially problematic because it could make the blood too thin, which in itself is very dangerous. The Tolerable Upper Intake Level is 800 mg for ages 14-18 and 1000 mg for ages >19. Conversion: 1,000 mg = 1,500 IU
    • Dietary Sources: 
      • Vegetable oils: soybean, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed
      • Nuts & seeds: almonds and hazelnuts, sunflower seeds
      • Fortified cereals, peanut butter, spinach, turnip greens
      • ** If consuming vegetable oils for the vitamin E, avoid extremely high temperatures such as the frying method because this destroys the Vitamin E content.

 

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Vitamin K

  1. Vitamin K: This vitamin in known for its contribution towards blood clotting. It helps regulate the calcium metabolism in the body and also helps the body produce other proteins for the blood, bones and kidneys.
    • Deficiency: This is an important vitamin to keep track of if you have a history of Vitamin K deficiency (prescription anticoagulants, prolonged antibiotics, trouble with blood clots, and signs of Petechiae on the skin). However, deficiencies are not seen very often.
    • Overdose: This is the only fat-soluble vitamin that does not have a UL, but moderation is always key in the world of nutrition. Too much Vitamin K may cause blood clots to form too fast and cause the blood to become too thick.
    • Dietary Sources:
      • Just like Vitamin D, our body can create its own Vitamin K! However, instead of using the warm sunshine, our body uses the bacteria in our gut and intestines.
      • Green leafy vegetables: Spinach & Broccoli
      • Other: Black eyed peas, Canola oil, blueberries, pine nuts, & pistachios

 

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WHY? Why are newborns given a shot of Vitamin K? Because newborn babies do not have any healthy bacteria inside their gut yet, they cannot start to produce the Vitamin K that you and I can. So, to jump start this process and make sure they are able to produce blood clots, they are given a shot. If this procedure is not done, the baby is in serious danger. If for some reason they get hurt or take a different shot it could cause them to continuously bleed. 

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Reference:

American Dietetic Association: Complete Food & Nutrition Guide. 4th edition, 2012

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