Americans love vitamins. More than half of us take some form of a one-a-day
supplement or daily vitamin, which, according to research, equates to
about $81 million in annual sales!
“There’s a lot of controversy around vitamin consumption, and
as health care providers, we tend to maintain a view that the best way
to get all
the vitamins you need to stay healthy is through a balanced diet and lifestyle,” suggests
Regina Chinsio-Kwong, DO, a
Mission Heritage Medical Group physician at St. Joseph Hoag Health Wellness Corners. But for some of
us, a lifetime of unhealthy eating habits may require a bit of extra help.
In these instances, vitamin supplements can play a vital role in helping
us find balance again. For example, Vitamin B-12 can help with stress
management and energy, folate (folic acid) helps ensure healthy prenatal
development and Vitamin D can be taken to manage depression. But with
an encyclopedia of vitamin options available, and hundreds of brands to
choose from, how do we know which ones are good and which ones to avoid?
“Before you start taking vitamins or supplements, you should always
check with your doctor first,” Dr. Chinsio-Kwong says. “Your
health care provider will be able to identify which supplements your body
is actually lacking, versus those it is not.”
Here’s what to look for when considering a purchase:
Look for NSF or USP certification symbols.
The Food and Drug Administration regulates vitamins, but the agency doesn’t
actually test them. It’s the manufacturer’s responsibility
to make sure vitamins are safe for consumption; this means that not all
vitamins live up to their labels.
“A good habit to get into when choosing a vitamin or supplement is
to look for the USP or NSF certification symbol,” says Dr. Chinsio-Kwong.
The United States Pharmacopeia Convention (www.usp.org) and NSF International (www.nsf.org) work with vitamin factories on a voluntary basis to test and certify
their products, helping purchasers identify which items are faithful to
It’s also important to look out for warning labels, especially when
pregnant or nursing.
Finding a good vitamin brand has nothing to do with cost.
Some cheaper products will use synthetic binding agents in their vitamins
that are hard to digest. But more expensive products are no different.
The best way to find a good vitamin is to do your research. Food-Based
vitamins are best. The Office of Dietary Supplements offers
free fact sheets that can help you determine which brands uses certain ingredients, and
therefore which vitamins might be best suited for your particular needs.
Know the percentage or dosage of the key ingredient that you need.
Typically, manufacturers of supplements will have to meet certain requirements,
including the quantity of any specific herbal extract in a supplement.
Check the label for the recommended daily value percentage or DV. In some
cases, it may exceed the recommended daily dose.
Vitamin overdosing is a real thing.
Yes, that is right. Even too much of a good thing can be bad for you. For
example, too much Vitamin C or zinc can cause diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.
Too much selenium can cause hair loss, mild nerve damage and gastrointestinal
issues. Check the labels and ensure you are not taking more than the recommended amount.
“If you have any symptoms or adverse effects after taking vitamins
or supplements, you should talk to your doctor right away,” says
Dr. Chinsio-Kwong. “Calcium, folic acid and Vitamin D when taken
in excess are known to cause problems. Excessive Vitamin D consumption
has been linked to heart problems, and consuming excessive amounts of
folic acid, found in grain rich foods such as bread, pasta, rice and cereals
can sometimes hide an underlying B12 deficiency. An untreated B12 deficiency
can cause nerve damage,” she says.
Your body needs vitamins and minerals to give you energy and help you feel
good. Unfortunately, the modern day American diet is high in fat, sugar,
and complex carbohydrates and does not adequately supply all the nutrients
our bodies need to stay healthy. As a result, supplements are sometimes
necessary, but a simple change of diet, when combined with regular exercise,
can also work wonders to ensure that your body gets all the nutrients it needs.
Learn more about
Dr. Chinsio-Kwong. Learn more about
Mission Heritage Medical Group.