Should We Be Taking Vitamins As Supplements?

In a world where consumerism rules and instant gratification is perceived as an entitlement, we're led to believe that we are able to buy our happiness through the way of beauty, fashion, technology and even...vitamins as supplements?!

The health industry is amongst one of the biggest and hungriest in the world. It has managed to, over the decades, successfully sell the perceived benefits of medication and supplements across all generations.

Branching off from the health industry, is the huge market that is vitamins supplements. The minimally regulated industry means we're generally able to decide if and how we want to consume vitamins. From retirees watching midday TV to teens scrolling through Instagram and young parents conscious of keeping their young children healthy, vitamins have been marketed across the board. Whether it be to help us study, to help our children grow or to avoid diseases in old age, there's vitamin to fix us all (apparently)! 

This extended exposure to various healthcare brands and products means the idea is lodged somewhere in the back of our heads. Next thing you're walking down isle 12 in Woolworths and spot a pack of vitamin C orange flavoured chewables. Then, boom, you decide to buy it instead of a packet of Tic Tacs. I mean, you're not deficient in vitamin C, but it can't do you any harm and it sounds healthy enough....

It's not our fault that we've become a society of over-consumers and hypochondriacs. It does make you wonder, what am I consuming that's not benefiting me? Specifically, let's looks at consuming vitamins through supplements. Does it really work? Is it good for us to consume vitamins so indifferently? 

Vitamins are the Key to Optimum Bodily Functioning

Systems of the human body that need vitamins
The human body needs vitamins to perform to it's optimal ability.

Vitamins perform hundreds of roles in the human body. These include maintaining bone health, healing wounds and repairing cellular damage. They also bolster our immune system as well as help convert food into energy. Essentially vitamins are part of the raw materials your body needs to function on an every day basis. Historically, these vitamins have come directly from the consumption of food. 

Vitamins fall into two categories: fat soluble and water soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins include A, D, E, and K - they dissolve in fat and can be stored in your body. Water-soluble vitamins including C and B-complex vitamins need to dissolve in water before your body can absorb them. Because of this, your body can't store these vitamins and whatever is not used is passed through your system. Water soluble vitamins need to be replenished on a daily basis. 

These raw materials that are necessary to our bodily functions can be narrowed down to at least 30 vitamins, minerals and dietary components. Once scientists and health experts recognised this, they began extracting vitamins so that we could consume them irrespective of food. Not only has this advent been life changing around the world for malnutritioned nations, but it has also offered a quick fix to the western world. Now, people who lead busy lives and lack time to maintain a balanced diet are able to look to supplements to compensate. 

Over Consumption of Supplements can be Dangerous

Office worker sick due to lack of vitamins
Too much of something is not always a good thing.

Whether you're buying supplements, multivitamins or drinking vitamin infused water, we're now, more than ever consciously drawn to actively consume items that advertise additional vitamins. Why? Because of the perceived health benefits.

"Most people don't realise there's no real advantage to taking more than the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals, and they don't recognise there may be disadvantages," says Johanna Dwyer, RD, from the America Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements.

So can you harm yourself with the consumption of vitamins? Absolutely. Haven't you ever heard the saying, 'Too much of anything can be a bad thing?Excess vitamin C can cause nauseadiarrhoea, and stomach cramps. Too much vitamin B6 can lead to nerve toxicity. Over consumption in vitamin B3 can lead to nausea, jaundice, and liver toxicity. 

"A number of vitamins - A, D, E and K - are what we call fat soluble vitamins, so they can accumulate in the body in high doses and become toxic," says Associate Professor Sue Moloney, Head of the Royal Australian College of Physicians' Paediatrics and Child Health Division.

The best precaution? Talk with your doctor about any supplements you're taking. It's unlikely you'll be consuming too much of any vitamin through food alone. Your doctor can help you keep doses in a safe range and identify areas that you may be deficient in. 

Common Vitamin Deficiencies 

Low energy diagram due to lack of vitamins
Not eating the right foods can result in vitamin deficiencies.

Although a healthy and balanced diet with exercise are doctors orders for living a healthy life, it's not always possible to consume all the relevant vitamins and minerals through food alone. In developed nations, our lifestyle choices can also affect our vitamin intake. For example, diets low in fat reduce the absorption of vitamin E. The consumption of certain medications and antibiotics can also cause vitamin deficiencies.  

“For example, calcium and vitamin D deficiencies can cause osteopenia or osteoporosis, two conditions marked by brittle bones” says Kate Patton, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. 

Common vitamin deficiencies in developed countries include Vitamin C, D and E. These deficiencies can lead to diseases in extreme cases. If not addressed, vitamin C deficiency can lead to Scurvy.  A disease that killed millions in the 18th Century and was treatable with citrus. Sounds easy enough right? Problem is fruits were not easy to come by in those times.

For many of us access to such fruits that are high in vitamin C are part of a balanced diet. If not, you may have to think twice about yours! In the case of Scurvy in the 18th Century, vitamin supplements would have proved to be the elixir of life. They would have prevented the disease that killed millions and devastated an era. We very rarely see cases of Scurvy in today's day and age because of our access to vitamin supplements. 

Natures Way: Vitamin Intake Through Food 

Fruit and vegetables filled with vitamins and supplements
Getting a mix of fruits and vegetables is crucial to getting important vitamins into your diet.

"Vitamins should be used only as supplements to the diet, not substitutes for healthy food,"
says Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D., director of the antioxidant research lab at Tufts University, Boston. 

If you're looking to maximise your vitamin intake through the consumption of food, then you can't look past a few foods. The foods below are some of the most densely packed, nutritious gifts delivered directly from mother nature herself. How many are part of your diet? 

Salmon - A 100 gram piece of salmon contains 2.8 grams of Omega-3s, protein and a ton of vitamins and minerals including large amounts of Magnesium, Potassium, Selenium and all the B-vitamins.

Kale - Touted as the superfood of gen-y, and with good cause, Kale is loaded with vitamins C, A, K1 and B6, minerals, fibre, antioxidants and various bio active compounds.

Garlic - The delicious addition to any dish is high in vitamins C, B1 and B6, Calcium, Potassium, Copper, Manganese and Selenium.

Potato - Bad news for anyone leading a low carb diet, but great news for any one who loves potatoes as much as I do. Potatoes are a nutrient rich powerhouse containing plenty of Potassium, Magnesium, Iron, Copper and Manganese as well as vitamin C and B vitamins.

Liver - By far one of the most nutritionally beneficial parts of eating meat is the liver. With a plethora of vitamins including B12, B6, B5, B2 and A as well as Niacin, Folate, Copper, Iron, Phosphorus, Zinc, Selenium and Protein, liver is one of the most nutritionally beneficial piece of meat you can eat.

Eggs - Often refereed to as natures multivitamin, eggs, specifically egg yolks, play host to vitamins B6, B12, A, D and E as well as Calcium, Iron, Phosphorus, Zinc, Thiamine and Folate.

Feel the kick: Energy Drinks and Vitamins

Energy drink with lemon and vitamins
REIZE is a great way to consume a range of B vitamins.

If you're like me and you can't stomach the thought of kale and liver for dinner, than you're in luck, have I got the vitamin packed, great tasting energy kicker for you. REIZE is a powdered energy drink that contains all the necessary ingredients to give you that boost without the nasty crash. It contains premium quality energy drink ingredients and can be mixed just the way you like it. Packed with vitamin B1, B2, B3 and B6 as well as Taurine, Ginseng, Inositol and Caffeine, REIZE sure knows how to pack a healthy punch when you need it most. Remember, those B vitamins are water soluble and need to be consumed on a daily basis:

B1 - Also knows as Thiamin, vitamin B1 can help to boost your immune system and increase athletic performance.

B2 - Also knows as Riboflavin, vitamin B2 helps release energy from foods...which is an awesome energy boost buddy for REIZE.

B3 - Also knows as Niacin, vitamin B3 is crucial in metabolising foods and producing energy. It can also lower cardiovascular risks.

B6 -  Is necessary for proper brain development and function. It also produces the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which can improve your mood. 

Written by Nina Prica