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Are There Vitamins You Can’t Live Without?

There’s a tremendous amount of press focused on which vitamins and minerals promote good cardiovascular health, as well as your health overall. While there seems to be an infinite number of supplements available, research indicates that there are only 13 vitamins which your body needs in order to thrive. These essential vitamins keep your body performing at its best. However, a deficiency or overuse of vitamins can be dangerous, potentially leading to a variety of health issues.

What Does the Evidence Say?

A study that systematically analyzed vitamin use was published recently in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The purpose of this review was to determine the necessity of taking vitamin supplements— and the study actually found that you don’t “absolutely” need to take them. An additional analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that taking surplus vitamins also doesn’t prevent disease — unless you happen to be deficient in certain areas.

The paradox of the above statements is that if you don’t get sufficient amounts of the 13 vitamins, your overall health could be at risk. Fortunately, it’s possible to get all 13 of these vitamins of them from your diet. In fact, most people are able to do so, making the ritual of taking a multivitamin daily unnecessary in many cases. Oftentimes, taking a multivitamin that provides 100 percent of all 13 vitamins might be harmful if your diet is already providing most of what your body requires.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

It seems hard to believe that ingesting more vitamins doesn’t directly equate to better health. However, fat-soluble vitamins can build up in your body’s fat to levels that become toxic. For example, Vitamins A and E — long touted for their antioxidant qualities — could actually contribute to the development of cancer. How?

Your body uses free radicals to not only kill cancer cells, but also to fight a variety of common bacterial infections. An overabundance of any vitamin can actually inhibit your body’s ability to naturally fight off these illnesses. The key is to understand your typical dietary intake in order to identify any potential deficiencies. Then you can accurately supplement those deficits with only the vitamins you need. This is particularly relevant for people who have dietary restrictions due to health concerns, or for those who choose to eliminate certain food groups from their diets for other reasons. Vegetarians, for example, may find that they need supplemental amounts of vitamin D, vitamin B12, or omega–3 fatty acids.

Growth of the Supplement Industry

In the early 1900s, the discovery of the seemingly miraculous properties of the 13 vitamins meant that certain diseases, like Lyme disease for instance, could actually be prevented. Although this knowledge was used in the medical field to develop incredible advancements we know today, it was also seized upon by the dietary supplement and food marketing industries. With that in mind, it is important to understand that not every supplement is necessary for the average person.

Today, there is a growing body of foods which contain added vitamins. This overarching trend could mean that many people are getting more of certain vitamins than they desire or need. Not surprisingly, “more of a good thing” is often not better. Case in point: a diet consisting of too much iron can cause vomiting, and an overabundance of vitamin A could lead to birth defects or liver damage.

What’s a Health-Conscious Person to Do?

Social media trends and health fads can make the issue of vitamin supplements confusing. Without seeking the services of a certified nutritionist or asking your doctor to test your measurable vitamin levels, there’s not a perfect way to know whether you need to take vitamin supplements. However, you can look for common warning signs such as brittle hair or nails, bleeding gums, hair loss or dandruff, red or white bumps on your skin, or even recurring restless legs. While these aren’t always associated with a vitamin deficiency, they can be indicators that it’s time to get a wellness checkup.

The best way to protect your health is to be as informed as possible about the nutritional values of everything you eat and drink — read any labels available, and don’t forget the fine print! Unless you have a condition that interferes with the absorption of vitamins, consuming a broad variety of fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy (plus a little sunshine throughout the week) is likely to keep you on track for a healthy lifestyle. With regular checkups, you’ll stay informed as to whether you need to supplement with one or more vitamins due to a particular deficiency.