Monday, October 24, 2011

Ask Us Anything: Am I Taking Too Many Vitamins?

"Is it possible to take too many vitamins and supplements?"

Registered Dietitian Deborah Richter Responds:

The short answer is “Yes.”

It is recommended that your intake of water soluble vitamins (the B-complex, vitamin C and vitamin K) and the fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E) not exceed 150% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance of these nutrients, unless advised by a medical professional. (Click here for more information on the Dietary Reference Intake.)

Most over-the-counter vitamin and mineral supplements are within the Recommended Dietary Allowance guidelines. It is when individual vitamins or nutrient supplements are taken that these levels can be exceeded.

It is important to inform your primary care provider of any supplements that are taken on a regular basis. If you do not see a physician on a regular basis, use a prudent and moderate approach to vitamins and supplements.

As for supplements, some can actually be dangerous, especially if taken with some medications or in excessive dosages or with some medical conditions.

For example, the herbal supplement, Echinacea, which is often taken in the winter to decrease the duration of colds, should be limited to 8 weeks. In a Western New York winter, the cold season may be months, not weeks. Therefore, if you take the over-the-counter Echinacea, it should be limited to those times after direct exposure to people with respiratory infections or when the cold symptoms first start. The supplement should be stopped once the symptoms resolve.

Also, some supplements interfere with the effectiveness of medications and should not be taken. The supplement Licorice that disguises itself as candy can be very dangerous with heart disease. Prolonged or excessive use may deplete potassium and increase retention of sodium, which may lead to high blood pressure, edema, irregular heartbeat, and decreased testosterone in males, flaccid weakness, and headaches to name just a few of the possible adverse reactions of Licorice.

The best approach is eating a variety of foods including many vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low fat dairy, beans and lean meats. Keep portions balanced to maintain a healthy weight and be active every day.

— Deborah Richter, RD

Deborah Richter is a registered dietitian at Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Joseph Campus in Cheektowaga. She teaches diabetes education classes and provides outpatient nutrition counseling. She has helped her clients to lose weight, reduce their blood pressure and feel better about themselves through healthy eating choices.

If you have a question about your health, click here to ask our experts.

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