I've been wanting to do a post on vitamins since around the time I read through my nutrition class's chapter on the subject. Well, they came up all over the book, but there was a specific chapter detailing all of the known vitamins and what they do for us. I'm not going to go over all of that here, because it should be general knowledge (at least a little bit of it) and you can find it elsewhere. What I do want to talk about is the fact that as I was reading through the chapter, what stood out the most to me was how many vitamins can actually be toxic for you. (Yes, you can have too much of a good thing.) But more than that, they'd list the reasons for the toxicity and unless you had a specific disease the only way to consume so much of a vitamin that it was bad for you was through supplementation.
Let me repeat that: most vitamins, no matter how much you consume in their natural form, aren't dangerous for you unless you have a specific condition. However, by consuming too many vitamins in the form of pills and supplements, you can be debilitated and crippled by toxic levels of the vitamins. How scary is that?
A lot of doctors are now saying that vitamin/mineral supplements can potentially (a)do more harm than good, (b)at best, create nothing more than expensive urine, and (c)could have dangerous consequences. (For a good overall article, go here. Most of what I'm saying is based on deeper study than just an internet search, however.) There is even some research stating that some people either take vitamins to cover up a lack of proper nutrition or to give themselves leeway to eat less healthfully. If you eat a diet of fast food, no amount of vitamin supplementation is going to make up for your crappy diet. There's just no way around that fact.
A while ago, my doctor recommended that I take a vitamin D supplement based on the personal opinion that "everyone in Alaska is low in vitamin D." No offense to her, but I didn't start taking it. I drink lots of milk, and I'm outside more than most Alaskans are in the winter. I make sure to turn my face to the sun (sans sunscreen) and absorb a bit of D that way. I'm sure my level is still a bit low in the winter, but the doctor never mentioned that exercise is also a good way to get D. Surprising? The reason I say this is because vitamin D is fat soluble, meaning that it's stored in your fat tissues rather than flushed out like water soluble vitamins. When you burn fat, some of your previously stored vitamin D is returned to your system and you don't need to consume/absorb as much.
Please don't stop taking vitamin supplements on my say-so. For people who have severe health conditions requiring vitamin supplementation it can be a matter of life and death. However, the general population doesn't need to supplement. What we need is to eat more fruits and vegetables to get all of the nutrients they contain (which is so much more than *just* vitamins), not just the paltry few vitamins and minerals we can get from a pill. Do your research, and decide for yourself if you really should be taking those supplements.
For me personally, I don't take vitamins. I think it's a waste of my time--even the minute or so to open the bottle and then swallow it is too much for something with dubious safety and effectiveness. Do I have exceptions to this rule? Of course. When we're ready to start having kids, the minute I think I'm pregnant I'll start taking a prenatal vitamin. So much of a child's future health can be at least partially determined by what happens in the womb and I want to be sure my children will be healthy. Mental and physical deformities can be prevented by ensuring that pregnant women have adequate nutrition and this can be assisted with (but shouldn't rely solely on) vitamins.
I did (sometimes) remember to take a vitamin the two times I've been recovering from broken bones. There is some evidence that upping one's calcium intake while your body knits bones back together can help speed up the process. Whether this means that my calcium/vitamin D supplement actually helped I'm not sure, but it was worth a shot. Even knowing what I now do, I'd take them again if I broke a bone. But vitamins are never going to be a regular thing in my life, since I feel that with adequate nutrition most of us don't need them. They're expensive and, besides, eating my vitamins is so much more fun than taking a pill!