Should I take vitamins?
Mary Martin, Pharm.D, is senior operations manager for the inpatient pharmacy at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix.
Question: I’ve taken vitamin supplements for years to ensure I get the nutrients that may be lacking in my diet, but now I’m hearing they increase the risk of death. Should I take vitamins or not?
Answer: There are two types of vitamins, including water soluble and fat soluble vitamins. The only fat soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E and K.
In most cases, individuals get all the vitamins they need from a healthy, well-balanced diet. Poor dietary intake, overeating or altered metabolism brought about by disease may lead to malnutrition.
Certain medical conditions can result in the body’s inability to absorb vitamins and/or an increased need for specific vitamins. For instance, absorption of fat soluble vitamins is impaired in those with cystic fibrosis, therefore, making supplementation necessary. Additionally, some conditions require an increase in certain vitamins. Two great examples include the need for increased levels of folic acid during pregnancy to prevent spina bifida and a woman’s postmenopausal need for calcium and vitamin D supplementation to support bone stability.
However, the average healthy person has little need for vitamin supplements. When taking water soluble vitamin supplements, the body keeps only what it needs. There is very little ability to store water soluble vitamins, which means anything over and above what the body needs is eliminated in urine. Intake of excess water soluble vitamins often results in dark yellow or even slightly green urine. In such cases, vitamin supplements do little more than create expensive urine.
On the other hand, fat soluble vitamins can be stored in the body, which can lead to overdose. Excess consumption of fat soluble vitamins can produce undesirable effects or even toxicity. For instance, excess intake of vitamin A can lead to seizures, liver disease or even death.
Ultimately, if taking a multivitamin helps you feel better or if you have concerns about whether your diet provides sufficient nutrients, then a multivitamin may be beneficial for you. However, taking large doses of any vitamin beyond what is included in a multivitamin should be discussed with your physician. Make sure you actually need the vitamins before you take them.