Vitamin benefits - Everybody knows that it's important to get enough of all the essential nutrients. There is no exact science, however, for determining just how much of any given vitamin or mineral anybody needs at any given time.
Age, genetics, the combinations of foods you eat and the times you eat them, and disease conditions all have an effect on how much of various nutrients you need. That's why attention to vitamin benefits is essential to ensure good health.
Severe deficiencies of vitamins or minerals are relatively rare in healthy, young people. Slight deficiencies of certain vitamin benefits, however, are relatively common.
Vitamin B-12 is a common nutritional deficiency in people over 60 years of age. Calcium, chromium, folic acid (folate), magnesium, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, and zinc are frequently deficient among people of all ages.
Just a little deficiency can create big problems in your health over the long run. Insufficient intake of vitamin D and calcium raise your risk of developing osteoporosis. Not getting enough folic acid and vitamin B6 increases your risk of heart disease.
Certain illnesses put a severe strain on the body's stores of vitamins. Antioxidant vitamin benefits are depleted by diabetes. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease can rob the body of vitamins D, E, and K. HIV depletes virtually every vitamin and mineral, as do smoking cigarettes and drinking excessive alcohol.
Literally hundreds of prescription drugs interfere with the body's absorption, use, or storage of vitamins and deprive the body of their benefits.
There is evidence that multivitamins can help correct many specific conditions. The B vitamins enhance men's fertility. Folic acid is important for expectant mothers.
Multivitamins may reduce the pain of arthritis, decrease symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), enhance mental function, reduce antisocial behavior in children, and improve general well being. Whether you're healthy or sick, chances are you can benefit from a daily multivitamin.
Vitamin enthusiasts often promote "megadose" therapies with common vitamins. A megadose is an intake of a vitamin in an amount greatly above the amount the body needs for vitamin benefits, 5, 10, or even 20 or 30 times the recommended daily allowance.
Sometimes a megadose of a water-soluble vitamin for a day or two actually helps prevent disease, as is the case with taking up to 2,000 mg of vitamin C a day or two can help keep you from catching cold.
Sometimes a megadose of vitamins under professional supervision can correct a chronic deficiency disease such as pernicious anemia or certain conditions of the bone.
Most of us, however, only need vitamins at the level of nutritional needs. For generally healthy people, vitamins are a safe and effective "added insurance" against developing chronic conditions. Here are some important facts to keep in mind:
Your nutritional supplement shouldn't contain more of a nutrient than your body can absorb. For instance, your digestive tract can't absorb a day's worth of calcium from a single tablet. Two tablets a day with a smaller dosage would be necessary.
Very high levels of antioxidants, such as 10,000 mg of vitamin C or 3,000 IU of vitamin E every day, can alter the way your body responds to vitamin benefits. If you abruptly stop taking a megadose of antioxidant vitamins, your body will act as if you were nutritionally deficient.
It is never a good idea to take megadoses of antioxidant vitamins over a period of weeks or months unless you are treating a specific health condition that requires these special vitamin benefits.
And don't forget that food is a source of vitamin benefits, too. There are variations of common vitamins, particularly vitamin E and the carotenes, are found in food but are almost never duplicated in a supplement. Eat healthy and take supplements for added insurance.
Should you take a multivitamin or a lot of single vitamins?
The way to get vitamin benefits is to take a multivitamin formula. Formulas balance individual ingredients. You won't be getting your zinc without copper or your folic acid without vitamin B-6. There may be advantages to taking certain nutrients at a higher dosage, but there can be drawbacks, too. Taking a balanced formula takes the guesswork out of your nutritional plan.