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About Vitamins and Supplements

About Vitamins

Vitamins are essential nutrients that contribute to a healthy life. Although most people get all the vitamins they need from the foods they eat, millions of people worldwide take supplemental vitamins as part of their health regimen.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, many people consume more calories than they need without taking in recommended amounts of a number of nutrients. The Guidelines warn that there are numerous nutrients‚ÄĒincluding vitamins‚ÄĒfor which low dietary intake may be a cause of concern. These nutrients are:

  • calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium, and vitamins A (as carotenoids), C, and E (for adults)
  • calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium, and vitamin E (for children and adolescents)
  • vitamin B-12, iron, folic acid, and vitamins E and D (for specific population groups).

Regarding the use of vitamin supplements, the Dietary guidelines include the following:

  • Consume a variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages¬†within and among the basic food groups. At the same time, choose foods that limit the intake of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, salt, and alcohol.
  • Meet recommended nutrient intakes within energy needs¬†by adopting a balanced eating pattern, such as one of those recommended in the USDA Food Guide or the National Institute of Health's Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan.
  • If you're over age 50,¬†consume vitamin B-12 in its crystalline form, which is found in fortified foods or supplements.
  • If you're a woman of childbearing age who may become pregnant,¬†eat foods high in heme-iron and/or consume iron-rich plant foods or iron-fortified foods with an iron-absorption enhancer, such as foods high in vitamin C.
  • If you're a woman of childbearing age who may become pregnant or is in the first trimester of pregnancy,¬†consume adequate synthetic folic acid daily (from fortified foods or supplements) in addition to food forms of folate from a varied diet.
  • If you are an older adult, have dark skin, or are exposed to insufficient ultraviolet band radiation (such as sunlight),¬†consume extra vitamin D from vitamin D-fortified foods and/or supplements.

Vitamin Facts

Your body uses vitamins for a variety of biological processes, including growth, digestion, and nerve function. There are 13 vitamins that the body absolutely needs: vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and folate). The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) cites two categories of vitamins.

  • Water-soluble vitamins¬†are easily absorbed by the body, which doesn't store large amounts. The kidneys remove those vitamins that are not needed.
    • B-3 (niacin):¬†flushing, redness of the skin, upset stomach.
    • B-6 (pyridoxine, pyridoxal, and pyridoxamine):¬†Nerve damage to the limbs, which may cause numbness, trouble walking, and pain.
    • C (ascorbic acid):¬†Upset stomach, kidney stones, increased iron absorption.
    • Folic Acid (folate):¬†High levels may, especially in older adults, hide signs of B-12 deficiency, a condition that can cause nerve damage

Taking too much of a vitamin can also cause problems with some medical tests or interfere with how some drugs work.

  • Fat-soluble vitamins¬†are absorbed into the body with the use of bile acids, which are fluids used to absorb fat. The body stores these for use as needed.
    • A (retinol, retinal, retinoic acid):¬†Nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, blurred vision, clumsiness, birth defects, liver problems, possible risk of osteoporosis. You may be at greater risk of these effects if you drink high amounts of alcohol or you have liver problems, high cholesterol levels or don't get enough protein.
    • D (calciferol):¬†Nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, constipation, weakness, weight loss, confusion, heart rhythm problems, deposits of calcium and phosphate in soft tissues.
    • If you take blood thinners, talk to your doctor before taking vitamin E or vitamin K pills.

The 13 Essential Vitamins

There are 13 vitamins that the body absolutely needs: vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and folate. Here we outline the benefits of each:

Vitamin A 
Vitamin A is required for good night vision, as it’s directly involved in photochemical reactions in your retina. Nature Made Beta-Carotene, Cod Liver Oil, and Vitamin A supplements are a good source of this nutrient. (from Nature Made)

Vitamin A is an antioxidant. Antioxidants are substances that may protect your cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced when your body breaks down food, or by environmental exposures like tobacco smoke and radiation. Vitamin A also plays a role in your

  • Vision
  • Bone growth
  • Reproduction
  • Cell functions
  • Immune system

Vitamin A can come from plant or animal sources. Plant sources include colorful fruits and vegetables. Animal sources include liver and whole milk. Vitamin A is also added to foods like cereals.

Vegetarians, young children, and alcoholics may need extra Vitamin A. You might also need more if you have certain conditions, such as liver diseases, cystic fibrosis, and Crohn's disease. Check with your health care provider to see if you need to take vitamin A supplements.

Source: NIH: National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements

Vitamin B
The B vitamins are:

  • B1 (thiamine)
  • B2 (riboflavin)
  • B3 (niacin)
  • B5 (pantothenic acid)
  • B6
  • B7 (biotin)
  • B12
  • Folic acid
    Folic acid is a B vitamin. It helps the body make healthy new cells. Everyone needs folic acid. For women who may get pregnant, it is really important. When a woman has enough folic acid in her body before and during pregnancy, it can prevent major birth defects of her baby's brain or spine.Foods with folic acid in them include leafy green vegetables, fruits, dried beans, peas and nuts. Enriched breads, cereals and other grain products also contain folic acid. If you don't get enough folic acid from the foods you eat, you can also take it as a dietary supplement. NIH: National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements.

These B vitamins help the process your body uses to get or make energy from the food you eat. They also help form red blood cells. You can get B vitamins from proteins such as fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy products. Leafy green vegetables, beans, and peas also have B vitamins. Many cereals and some breads have added B vitamins.

Not getting enough of certain B vitamins can cause diseases. A lack of B12 or B6 can cause anemia.


Vitamin C
Vitamin C is an antioxidant. Antioxidants are substances that may protect your cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced when your body breaks down food, or by environmental exposures like tobacco smoke and radiation. Vitamin C is important for your skin, bones, and connective tissue. It promotes healing and helps the body absorb iron.

Vitamin C comes from fruits and vegetables. Good sources include citrus, red and green peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, and greens. Some juices and cereals have added vitamin C.

Some people may need extra vitamin C:

  • Pregnant/breastfeeding women
  • Smokers
  • People recovering from surgery
  • Burn victims


Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, which your bones need to grow. A lack of vitamin D can lead to bone diseases such as osteoporosis or rickets. Vitamin D also has a role in your nerve, muscle, and immune systems.

You can get vitamin D in three ways: through your skin, from your diet, and from supplements. Your body forms Vitamin D naturally after exposure to sunlight. However, too much sun exposure can lead to skin aging and skin cancer. So many people try to get their vitamin D from other sources.

Vitamin D-rich foods include egg yolks, saltwater fish, and liver. Some other foods, like milk and cereal, often have added vitamin D.

You can also take vitamin D supplements. Check with your health care provider to see how much you should take. People who might need extra vitamin D include

  • Seniors
  • Breastfed infants
  • People with dark skin
  • People with certain conditions, such as liver diseases, cystic fibrosis and Crohn's disease
  • People who are obese or have had gastric bypass surgery

Source: NIH: National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements

(Below article from Nature Made)

Scientists have known about the importance of vitamin D since its discovery in 1922 by Edward Mellanby during his research on Rickets, a disease which was affecting children. Interestingly, in recent years, scientists may have linked a number of modern day health concerns to a vitamin D deficiency in adults.

Research has also discovered a correlation between weakened immune systems and low vitamin D levels, suggesting a possible need for supplementation. Vitamin D is a regulator of the immune system. Many studies support vitamin D's role in immune health. During the winter months, when sunlight exposure is significantly decreased or limited, vitamin D supplementation is helpful for supporting a healthy immune system.

In addition, there is some evidence linking low levels of vitamin D to an increased risk of falls among the elderly. Results from 8 studies on more than 2,400 adults age 65 and older looking at vitamin D supplementation for fall prevention showed a minimum of 700-1000 IU of vitamin D daily can substantially reduce risk of falls among older adults.

Some of the most impressive findings on vitamin D, however, have been in its role in genetics. It influences genetic signals which promote the healthy development of cells in tissues, including the colon, heart, breast, prostate, liver, thyroid, and brain.

Vitamin D has been proven to be a key ingredient for overall well-being. With so many people working indoors and shielding themselves from the sun when they are outside, supplementing with vitamin D is advisable for maintaining good health. 

From NatureMade Vitamins

Vitamin E
Vitamin E is an antioxidant. Antioxidants are substances that may protect your cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced when your body breaks down food, or by environmental exposures like tobacco smoke and radiation. Vitamin E also plays a role in your immune system and metabolic processes. Good sources of vitamin E are vegetable oils, margarine, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens. Vitamin E is also added to foods like cereals. Most people get enough vitamin E from the foods they eat. People with certain disorders, such as liver diseases, cystic fibrosis, and Crohn's disease may need extra vitamin E.

Vitamin E supplements may be harmful for people who take blood thinners and other medicines. Check with your health care provider before taking the supplements.

Source: NIH: National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements

The Vitamin E family includes eight antioxidants: four tocopherols, and four tocotrienols, each designated as alpha-, beta-, gamma- and delta-. Antioxidants work best when taken in combination. Vitamin E and Vitamin C work as a strong antioxidant team, and taking them together enhances their effectiveness. (from Nature Made)

Vitamin K
Vitamin K helps your body by making proteins for healthy bones and tissues. It also makes proteins for blood clotting. If you don't have enough vitamin K, you may bleed too much.

Newborns have very little vitamin K. They usually get a shot of vitamin K soon after they are born.

If you take blood thinners, you need to be careful about how much vitamin K you get. You also need to be careful about taking vitamin E supplements. Vitamin E can interfere with how vitamin K works in your body. Ask your health care provider for recommendations about these vitamins.

Most people get their vitamin K from plants such as green vegetables, and dark berries. Bacteria in your intestines also produce small amounts of vitamin K.



Develop a Vitamin Strategy

It is important for consumers to have an overall strategy for how they will achieve adequate vitamin intakes. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises that nutrient needs be met primarily through consuming foods, with supplementation suggested for certain sensitive populations.

These guidelines, published by the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), provide science-based advice to promote health and to reduce risk for chronic diseases through diet and physical activity. They form the basis for federal food, nutrition education, and information programs.

Barbara Schneeman, Ph.D., Director of FDA's Office of Nutritional Products, Labeling, and Dietary Supplements, says, "The Guidelines emphasize that supplements may be useful when they fill a specific identified nutrient gap that cannot or is not otherwise being met by the individual's intake of food." She adds, "An important point made in the guidelines is that nutrient supplements are not a substitute for a healthful diet."

Click here for a printer-friendly copy of "Fortify Your Knowledge About Vitamins" published by the FDA.

Click here for a printer-friendly copy of "Dietary Guidelines for Americans (dietary Guidelines supplement)" published by the FDA.


Dietary Supplement Facts

A dietary supplement is a product intended for ingestion that contains a "dietary ingredient" intended to add further nutritional value to (supplement) the diet. Dietary ingredients include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and herbs or botanicals, as well as other substances that can be used to supplement the diet.

Dietary supplements come in many forms, including tablets, capsules, softgels, gelcaps, powders, energy bars, and liquids. They can include among others:

  • vitamin and mineral products
  • "botanical" or herbal products‚ÄĒThese come in many forms and may include plant materials, algae, macroscopic fungi, or a combination of these materials.
  • amino acid products‚ÄĒAmino acids are known as the building blocks of proteins and play a role in metabolism.
  • enzyme supplements‚ÄĒEnzymes are complex proteins that speed up biochemical reactions.

Dietary supplements must be labeled as such and must not be represented for use as a conventional food or as the sole item of a meal or the diet. One way to distinguish dietary supplements from conventional foods is by looking at the nutrition information on the label of the product. Conventional foods must have a "Nutrition Facts" panel on their labels, but dietary supplements must have a "Supplement Facts" panel.

Some dietary supplements can help ensure that you get an adequate dietary intake of essential nutrients; others may help you reduce your risk of disease.

Click here for a printer-friendly copy of "FDA 101: Dietary supplements" published by the FDA.

To take a supplement as safely as possible

  • Tell your doctor about any dietary supplements you use
  • Do not take a bigger dose than the label recommends
  • Stop taking it if you have side effects
  • Read trustworthy information about the supplement
  • NIH: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine |¬†complementary or alternative medicine¬†(CAM).
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Report Problems/Side Effects

If you believe that you are experiencing an adverse response to taking a vitamin or a dietary supplement, Frankos advises reporting it to your health care provider, as well as to the manufacturer whose name or phone number appears on the label. You can also report directly to FDA through its MedWatch program.

Starting December 22, 2007, any serious adverse events reported to a dietary supplement manufacturer must be reported to FDA within 15 days of the manufacturer receiving the adverse event report.

This article appears on FDA's Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.

Disclaimer: Great care has been taken to assure the accuracy of the information presented and to distill a concise summary from a large body of information regarding vitamin information¬†above. Any information obtained here, however, should be addressed with your physician or other qualified healthcare professional before using it. Livewell¬ģ cannot and should not be used as a basis for diagnosis or choice of treatment. Livewell¬ģ and its affiliates expressly exclude all liability with respect to the information and opinions contained on this website, in the Livewell¬ģ forum, Knowledge Board, or any sites linked to this website.

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A few independent organizations that offer "seals of approval" that may be displayed on certain dietary supplement products. These indicate that the product has passed the organization's quality tests for things such as potency and contaminants. These "seals of approval" do not mean that the product is safe or effective; they provide assurance that the product was properly manufactured, that it contains the ingredients listed on the label and that it does not contain harmful levels of contaminants.

The following is a list of several organizations offering these programs: