Why popping vitamins and minerals can do more harm than good for your body

A 60-year-old gentleman came to me to consult me ​​about his loss of appetite. Upon questioning, he showed me a list of 17 supplements (written on a scrap piece of paper) that he was taking. These range from vitamins, hormones and even steroids. He said he just wanted to live longer than others by consuming these “energy supplements.” Investigations revealed a worn out liver (high liver enzymes indicating liver damage) while the urine showed a lot of protein (indicating kidney damage). I told him, “By consuming this dangerous cocktail of supplements and hormones, you may live shorter than others.” I stopped all his supplements and the liver and kidneys gradually healed.

Another patient came to me with very high calcium levels, causing kidney failure. When asked, she said, “I had heard that we all have vitamin D deficiency, so I started taking it daily.” He bought it over the counter and, without a doctor’s advice, took a sachet of 60,000 units of vitamin D daily for three months (it was to be taken once a week for a limited time in those with vitamin D deficiency vitamin D). He had to be admitted and we were able to lower his calcium levels gradually. And his kidney function improved.

Do you really need vitamins and supplements?

Both cases were examples of the type of misuse of vitamins and supplements. The lesson is that you don’t need vitamins and minerals if you don’t have a disease. Exercising regularly and eating nutritious diets that include plenty of fruits and vegetables should be enough. Sufficient vitamins/minerals can be acquired from the following sources: vitamin D from sun exposure, calcium from milk, curd, cheese, etc., B12 from liver and seafood, while protein can be obtained from non-vegetarian sources, soy, milk, nuts. , Bengal gram, lentils and linseed.
Dietary supplements are available in pure forms (e.g. vitamin B12, fish oil, vitamin D, whey protein, etc.) and mixed with each other (multivitamins include from a few to 30 or more vitamins and minerals combined) . The latter is widely consumed.

When do you need supplements?

The patient must be guided by a doctor or nutritionist. When the absorption of food in the intestine is reduced (malabsorption, pancreatic inflammation or intestinal surgery), several vitamins become deficient. Patients who have lost a lot of weight (cancer, liver disease, etc.) will need vitamin and protein supplements. Those who drink considerable amounts of alcohol over long periods become deficient in vitamins. People with fragile bones and lean muscles need vitamin, calcium and protein supplements. Iron supplements are needed in various conditions: heavy periods in women, intestinal ulcers, worm infestations, etc.

Remember that multiple vitamin and protein deficiencies can occur after any acute infection (viral, bacterial) and have been observed to occur severely in people with COVID-19 infections. Pregnant women clearly need vitamins to prevent birth defects in their offspring. Some vegetarians may be deficient in vitamin B12 and protein. For those going through the process of alcohol withdrawal, thiamine supplementation becomes necessary.

Patients with diabetes are often given multivitamins. Those taking the commonly prescribed medication metformin will need vitamin B12. People with long-standing diabetes who are frail and have poor appetite or intestinal muscle dysfunction (due to severe nerve damage) will need multivitamin and vitamin D supplements. Protein supplements should be given very carefully in patients with renal dysfunction. Patients with diabetes often have high blood fats (“triglycerides”) and these could be effectively treated with fish oil capsules (made from salmon and other fatty fish oils).

Gym alert

Young men who want to increase their muscles are given protein supplements in gyms. These can help. However, the dose of total protein intake should be correctly calculated based on body weight. Other additions such as body building hormones (anabolic steroids) should be avoided. These supplements are given in many gyms by unqualified people.

Like excess vitamin D (see the second patient above) and calcium, the intake of some other vitamins can also cause harm. Avoid beta-carotene (from pills, but it’s okay from natural foods) if you’re a smoker/ex-smoker, and vitamin A if you’re pregnant. Excess vitamin E over long periods may increase the risk of prostate cancer.

A multivitamin will not serve this purpose

Some people think that if they take a multivitamin tablet, they will get enough of all the vitamins and minerals. This is not true. Specific vitamin/mineral deficiencies (vitamin B12, folate, calcium, iron, vitamin D, etc.) should be treated with pure specific vitamins/minerals (tailored therapy) administered in 5- to 10-fold doses higher than those found in a multivitamin capsule. tablet In case of severe deficiency, injectable vitamins should be given.

Finally, there is a misconception that taking vitamins/minerals daily will prevent heart disease or cancer. There is no evidence that this occurs in those who eat a variety of healthy diets, fruits and vegetables, and get out into the sunlight for aerobic exercise. Clearly, a multivitamin a day cannot replace a healthy diet and exercise.

(The author is a Padma Shree awardee and author of the book “Diabetes with Delight”)

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