Vitamin Supplements: Lurking Dangers?

As the vitamin supplement industry flourishes and keeps on expanding, more and more people decide to swallow their morning pills in their wish to provide their bodies with enough resources. Yet such practices may not always be beneficial: taking supplements is a thing that must be treated with great care. And here is why.

Image Credit: Ylanite Koppens /

The Danger Behind

Ever since Linus Pauling claimed excessive intake of vitamin C is beneficial and able to cure such diseases as flu and even HIV, taking supplements has been very popular. People buy supplements and take them without prescription, thus risking their own health: vitamins can both benefit you and lead to conditions which may be very dangerous. Various researches conducted after Pauling’s death show that those who used to take large amounts of vitamin C or other supplements for several years had a much higher risk of developing cancer. For example, consuming too much beta-carotene and retinol (a form of vitamin A) leads to an increased risk of lung cancer. Another research reported by the US National Cancer Institute found that those men who take multivitamins are twice as likely to die due to prostate cancer development. Besides, vitamin E and selenium supplements can have the same effect of increasing the risk of this disease by 17%.

From Pills to Peas

All this data is terrifying, as most people consider supplements to be a thing that simply cannot harm you, and take them the way they want. It does not mean that vitamins and antioxidants should be avoided, but it appears that a human body can benefit much more from using vitamins if they come as part of food, and there are several reasons for that. First, food is equipped with a mixture of chemicals which affect each other and help your body process vitamins when you consume them. Second, it’s much more difficult to get an overdose of a particular chemical if you eat fruits instead of pills. Third, you do not know whether you suffer from a lack of some vitamin just by guessing: it takes a lab to find it out, and if you really want to take supplements, we recommend that you consult a doctor first in order to find out if such pills can be of use in your particular case. The only exception seems to be vitamin D, which is difficult to find in food, and the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) suggests that everyone takes 10 mg of vitamin D a day, because it seems like the overwhelming majority of people do not have enough supply of it due to using sunscreens and living in areas where there is not enough sunlight.

Food Factor

In most cases it is way safer to stick to a healthy diet instead of taking supplements. Of course, if your doctor prescribed you special pills, it is very likely that you need them to handle the deficiency, but in other cases the healthier, safer and more reasonable way to take care of your health and its nutrition is to eat healthy food, which contains everything you need to help your body. For example, substituting salmon for chips can help you much more than taking supplements which can do you harm if you do not actually need them.

If you want to ensure you get enough vitamins, look through the standard Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) and analyze your menu: does it contain enough vitamin B? Is there the right carb/fat/protein ratio? What about electrolytes? Visiting a doctor is another opportunity to find out whether you really need supplements: all it takes is a couple of blood drops.

Vitamin obsession can be very dangerous, so the general advice is the same: healthy lifestyle and diet are still the best choice for anyone, as the majority of people living in developed or developing countries have access to food that contains enough vitamins, and managing your menu properly is both possible and recommended – without any supplements!

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