Supplements Self Help

Many people take a daily multivitamin to help promote and maintain health. While vitamins can help boost overall health, taken in excess, vitamins can be too much of a good thing.

Often, people who are having health problems or who are trying to prevent certain health issues will self-prescribe vitamins. While self-prescribing vitamins is often harmless, it can also be dangerous and can have serious health consequences.

It is important to always talk to your doctor before practicing self-help through vitamin prescription.

Good Vitamin Candidates

Despite what many people believe, not everyone needs to take daily multivitamins or single-component vitamins. If you are a healthy adult whose diet consists of a variety of foods from the five food groups, you should be getting all the vitamins and minerals you need. In fact, most doctors say that the best way to get nutrients and vitamins is from the foods we eat.

However, many Americans don’t eat a well-balanced diet and, therefore, could benefit from vitamins.

Here’s a list of some groups of the population that would likely benefit from self-prescribing vitamins:

  • People on low-calorie diets (people who are consuming less than 1,200 calories per day) likely need a multivitamin.
  • People who eat little or no dairy may need a multivitamin that contains calcium.
  • People who have trouble swallowing may not be getting all of the required nutrients and should take a daily multivitamin.
  • People whose diets consist mainly of fast-food or prepared foods likely need a multivitamin.
  • Pregnant women would likely benefit from calcium, folic acid and iron.
  • Smokers should increase their intake of vitamin C. Male smokers should aim to get 125 mg per day, while female smokers should get 110 mg per day.
  • Vegans (people who eat no animal products) and strict vegetarians may need calcium, zinc, vitamin B12 and vitamin D12.
  • Women who are breastfeeding would likely benefit from calcium, folic acid and iron.

Whether or not you fall into one of the categories listed above, you should still talk with your doctor before prescribing vitamins to yourself. After reviewing your current health and discussing your diet and eating habits, your doctor will be able to tell you which vitamins, if any, you need to be taking.

The Risks of Self-Prescribing Vitamins

Exceeding the daily requirement of any vitamin is greatly discouraged, as there are known risks associated with taking vitamins in excess.

For instance, researchers know that the body stores some of the fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamin A and vitamin D, in its tissues. Thus, over time, these vitamins can build up and reach toxic levels. However, fat-soluble vitamins aren’t the only vitamins that can be dangerous when taken in excess: Water-soluble vitamins can be dangerous too.

Vitamin overdose can cause a number of health problems, including the following:

  • Overdose of vitamin B12, which women often self-prescribe for premenstrual syndrome (PMS), can cause permanent nerve damage.
  • Vitamin A overdose can cause bone, liver and nerve damage and can also contribute to birth defects.
  • Vitamin C overdose can cause diarrhea, nausea, increased estrogen levels and rectal bleeding.
  • Vitamin D overdose may contribute to hypertension (high blood pressure) and arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeat).
  • Vitamin E overdose can increase your risk of stroke and can cause muscle weakness, headache and fatigue.

Note that the above list isn’t all-inclusive.

Not only can vitamins be dangerous, but they can also be a waste of money. Researchers say that many people simply pass water-soluble vitamins through their urine.

Also, some vitamins may interfere with the absorption of certain prescription medications. Thus, people who are taking any prescription medicines should talk with their doctors before self-prescribing vitamins.

Resources

eMedicine (updated January 11, 2007). Toxicity, Vitamin. Retrieved November 15, 2007, from the eMedicine Web site: http://www.emedicine.com/emerg/topic638.htm.

Sax, Barbara (n.d.). The A, B, Cs of Vitamins. Retrieved November 15, 2007, from the Pharmacy Times Web site: http://www.pharmacytimes.com/Article.cfm?Menu=1