Why Too Many Vitamins Might Harm You

Taking more vitamins and minerals than you need won’t make you healthier. It may actually harm you. – By Selene Yeager

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Forty per cent of Americans pop at least one vitamin and mineral supplement every day. Healthy, active folks take even more, seemingly because they’re interested in staying healthy and active. But if you haven’t already, it’s time to reexamine your relationship with vitamins and mineral supplements. Mounting research has shown that in many cases, they not only fail to improve performance, but they may actually hinder it.

On the general health front, a massive 2013 review of 27 different studies involving more than 400,000 people found that neither multivitamins nor single or paired nutrients (like antioxidants A, C, E, and beta carotene) prevented heart disease, cancer, or decreased risk of early death from anything.

Worse, a 19-year study of more than 38,000 women found that those who took supplements had, on average, a 2.4-per cent increased risk of dying over the course of the study than those who didn’t. Most recently, a study published this month in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that men who supplemented vitamins B6 and B12 faced twice the risk of lung cancer as those not taking the supplements.

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That’s not to say supplements will kill you, per se. But they’re expensive and they’re not looking like the health insurance we once believed them to be.

“Supplements are intended to correct a deficiency,” says Leslie Bonci, a sports nutritionist at the Pittsburgh-based company Active Eating Advice and co-author of the book Bike Your Butt Off. “Too much may not only affect your health, but can also deplete your wallet… You may get more then you bargained for if you supplement to excess.”

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Even if you don’t pop pills, your healthy, active lifestyle can inadvertently have you mega-dosing on all sorts of vitamins and minerals. Wake up and pour yourself a bowl of Total Whole Grain, and you’ve essentially poured a multi-vitamin supplement, complete with 100 per cent of the daily value for 11 vitamins and minerals. Grab a Red Bull to amp up for your post-work training crit? You have now hit quadruple your recommended daily amount for B6, as well as far exceeded what you need for B12. Toss in a fortified recovery drink afterwards? You get the picture.

Most major energy-product manufacturers have kept current on the science and have dialed back the infusion of antioxidants and B-vitamins in their products. Your bars, chews, and gels are probably not supplements in disguise. But as the evidence mounts that too much of a good thing may actually be a bad thing, make sure to read your labels. Better yet, get all those vitamins and minerals (and myriad other phytonutrients) from whole, unprocessed plant foods and protein sources whenever possible.

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