Vitamin supplementation use/ misuse?
Monicca Sharrma-medical nutritionist and a wellness coach.
Vitamins are organic substances or groups of related substances – found in many foods. They have specific biochemical functions and are generally not made in the body (or not in sufficient quantity for good health).
They are essential nutrients required in very small amounts to maintain good health. The effects of vitamins are best known by their deficiency syndromes, many of which are life-threatening.
A well balanced Indian diet along with an exposure to sunlight is able to provide most vitamins and micronutrients. But, still, people suffer from vitamin deficiencies, especially vitamin B12, Vitamin D and folic acid in India.
In order to cater the deficiency of these vitamins, many pharmaceutical companies have started with the concept of multivitamin tablets which may be marketed as specialized products such as “multivitamin for men, senior women, menopausal women, persons with diabetes, for energy, for hair growth and so on.”
When it comes to using these vitamin supplements, there is a wide gap between what science says and what many consumers believe.
Today, vitamin supplements are readily available making it the simplest method to replenish the deficiencies of individual vitamins. Vitamin supplementation is more of a fashion propagated by media and manufacturers. Victims falling to this fashion are convinced that the intake of vitamins in the form of tablets or capsules can help them to protect against numerous diseases.
However, it turns out that some dietary supplements do not reduce but paradoxically increase the risk of diseases. Dosage is a major problem, since uncontrolled intake of products considered to be safe may bring about opposite results. There is a widespread perception that if a tiny amount of something is good, then more is better and a lot is best.
Let’s take an example of vitamin C in this case.
Many people think that vitamin C helps prevent the common cold. Despite exhaustive research across the world, there is still no strong evidence to prove this. Although, some studies have shown that taking large doses of vitamin C (more than 1,000 mg per day) continuously or when one develops its symptoms may ease some of the symptoms, but it does not act as a shield against one catching a cold.
One also needs to consider the health risks associated with taking large doses of vitamin C. Large doses may cause nausea, abdominal cramps, headaches, fatigue, kidney stones, and diarrhea. It may also interfere with one’s body’s ability to process other nutrients, e.g. it can lead to dangerously raised levels of iron in the blood. Excessive levels of vitamin C can also lead to falsely elevated blood glucose readings. Adults need about 45 mg of vitamin C per day and any excess amount is excreted.
Similarly, folic acid supplements are strongly recommended for women planning a pregnancy to reduce the risk of having a baby (200mg/day) with neural tube defects. Also to patients undergoing chemotherapy, suffering from pernicious anemia and to reduce the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. However, a recent study has shown that acute or chronic ingestion of a large dose of folic acid generally manifests as neurological complications, which are reversible. It can also cause several gastrointestinal and sleep disorders. Dietary and vitamin supplementation is a common trend among people who are trying to lose weight. These are considered to be a shortcut to weight loss with minimal exercise and diet control which may give some positive results but, in the long run, lead to several degenerative disorders, Therefore, it is always advisable to consume a weight loss supplement after a doctor’s approval.
Supplements do have a beneficial role to play for some groups of people with minimum side effects. For instance, people with malabsorption problems, such as diarrhea, coeliac disease, cystic fibrosis or pancreatitis, can benefit from supplements. Also, people who follow vegan diets, especially if pregnant, may benefit from vitamin B12 supplements. Although, the patients need to be careful and talk to their health care professionals beforehand to understand that dietary supplements are intended to supplement a healthy diet and do not serve as substitute for a healthy diet.