There are 13 vitamins considered essential for health and growth, and nine of them belong to the B group family; for example, thiamin (vitamin B1) and riboflavin (B2). Vitamins are not produced in the body, so need to be sourced in food, says Saxelby. When you consume vitamins in food, there is a very low risk of vitamin overdose. But most people don’t realise they are only needed in minute quantities (less than one per cent of our food is composed of vitamins).
This is why downing big or mega-doses can actually have unhealthy rebound effects. Most water-soluble nutrients like vitamin C and the B complex vitamins are excreted in your urine if you take too much, says Sarah Luck, naturopath and natural health consultant with Doctor Earth in Bondi Junction. But fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamin D, A, E and K are not excreted and can build up to toxic levels when taken in high amounts for prolonged periods of time, causing a range of side effects. Take high doses of one single nutrient for prolonged periods and it can cause problems if the others aren’t in balance. This is called a ˜relative deficiency’, and it can affect the delicate and sensitive feedback mechanisms that happen in the body, says Luck. In turn it can interfere with the proper function of certain systems and processes, so mega-doses of vitamins should be avoided.
The side effects might occur slowly over weeks or months so that you don’t make the connection or you might be completely unaware of the supplementation risks. According to McGrice, Too much iron can cause constipation; too many calcium supplements have been found to increase the risk of heart disease; too much vitamin C can make your body dependent upon high doses; and too many folate supplements can mask a B12 deficiency.
What most people don’t realise is that their body’s needs may change at different times – particularly those weeks where you drop the ball on your lifestyle. Supplements help to take the pressure off trying to achieve a perfect diet and lifestyle all of the time, says Luck. High stress levels, not enough sleep, a boozy 40th, or Friday and Saturday night combined with a few take-away meals can all increase your requirements for key nutrients. It helps to think of nutrients in the body as a bank account. Certain lifestyle factors can drain the bank account and once you’re in a state of overdraft, diet alone is usually not enough to get you back to a healthy bank balance quickly, so this is where supplements help.
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