Last updated on February 23rd, 2018
In this health conscious society where people pop vitamins and other nutritional supplements like candy, you may be surprised to learn that taking cheap vitamins, unnecessary vitamins, or even too many vitamins, is not the smartest thing you can do for your health and overall constitution.
Medical practitioners tend to agree that unless a qualified blood test indicates a vitamin deficiency, vitamin supplements won’t make you any healthier than you are. Your body will discard them along with other waste products. Of course not everyone gets their blood tested.
Whether you've been tested or not, it's still important to know that you can get too much of a good thing. Vitamins including vitamin A, B, C, D3, and K can have side effects. It's called hypervitaminosis.
High doses of mineral supplements including iron and selenium can also be dangerous. Even too many of those yummy Gummy Bear Vitamins can make your child ill.
Healthy levels on some vitamins and minerals have not as yet been established, but when it comes to common vitamins and minerals, more is not necessarily better. You can check the Institute of Medicine's Dietary Reference Intake Chart.
Vitamins and Your Health
Most of us know that it's not smart to substitute vitamins for food, but many people who hate vegetables for example, rely on vitamins to fill in the gap. That may work for some, but eating a diet of junk food and taking cheap synthetic vitamins and minerals as a substitute isn’t going to improve your health status.
Some vitamin/mineral companies promote supplements that stimulate healthy responses in our bodies such as more energy or relief from arthritis, and that may be true but not all vitamin and mineral supplements are alike
Labeling on bottles of vitamins has not been standardized; in fact, it is not required by law to tell you the component ingredients of an ingredient. More often than not, you’re in the dark when it comes to knowing the true makeup or potency of a vitamin supplement.
Here’s an example. One bottle of calcium supplements reads “calcium (gluconate) 1,000 mg”. Another label reads “calcium gluconate 1,000 mg”. Is there a difference? The answer is “yes”.
When you see an ingredient followed by a word listed in parenthesis, it means the word listed in parenthesis is the source of the supplement or the chelating agent – in this case gluconic acid. The milligrams listed is the actual potency of the calcium your are receiving.
So, in the example of calcium (gluconate) the calcium supplied is the full 1,000 mg.
If the ingredient is followed by a word not listed in parenthesis, as in the calcium gluconate example above, the 1,000 mg. represents the weight of the calcium together with the gluconic acid. The amount of calcium you receive is only a small percentage of the potency listed.
Both labels are legal. It’s just that the manufacturer in the second example is banking on the fact that you can’t read labels. Some labels are pretty honest and straightforward, like the one below for Vegan Vitamin D3.
If It Says “All Natural”, That’s Good, Isn’t It?
“100% all natural” ingredients is better than “natural” ingredients, and it is certainly better than synthetic ingredients for a several reasons. If a company's products have only “all natural ingredients” it means all the ingredients are found in nature rather than created in a pharmaceutical laboratory. Here are some facts about synthetic ingredients:
- Synthetic vitamin and mineral supplements are not used as efficiently in the body.
- Some people may have an adverse reaction to synthetic vitamins and minerals.
- Synthetic vitamins and minerals have only one component out of a whole family of micro-nutrients. Micro-nutrients allow for proper vitamin absorption.
Also consider that although a product may have “all natural” ingredients, it may contain filler products such as corn starch, sugar, or flavorings that make you break out in hives.
Potentially Harmful Ingredients in Vitamins
Some makers of vitamin supplements add “flowing agents” into their capsules. The only purpose for a “flowing agent” is to make the raw materials slippery so they flow easily through the machines that create the supplements.
Check labels for these two common additives:
- Magnesium stearate
- Titanium dioxide
In small doses, neither ingredient will cause any major harm, but it can add up over time. Magnesium stearate can cause a biofilm in your intestines which will prevent the absorption of nutrients.
Titanium dioxide is best known as an ingredient in sunscreen, but it's also in nutritional products.
Certain vitamins made by GNC or Centrum (as well as hundreds of other companies) include titanium dioxide in their vitamin formulas. There have been no long-term safety tests conducted on humans who ingest titanium dioxide; however, according to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, titanium dioxide may be a human carcinogen.
Incomplete Ingredient Labels
Some vitamin labels don’t include enough important information about a vitamin. For example, some list an ingredient as, “Vitamin D, 1000 IU”. Is it vitamin D2 or vitamin D3? The label does not tell you. It’s good to know, because there is a big difference between Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3.
The Bottom Line
The FDA has a lot of leftovers on it’s plate, so to speak. What with modern labeling terms such as “organic”, “all natural” and “green” keeping them busy, it may be a while before they get around to setting up clear standards regarding labels on vitamin and mineral supplements. Until then, it’s up to you, the consumer to better understand ingredient labeling, or at least to buy your supplements from highly reputable companies.
Disclaimer: All information provided here is presented for general informational purposes only. It should not be considered complete or exhaustive and should not be used as a substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or health care provider.