Vitamins

Vitamins can keep us healthy, but too much of a good thing may actually make us sick. To learn more about vitamins and vitamin overdose select one of the links below and start reading

Your A-B-C and Ds
Vitamin A
Vitamin B
Vitamin C
Vitamin D

Your A-B-C and Ds are elementary for health

Vitamins are necessary for your body to function properly ... and while you can buy a pill called a multivitamin, nutritional experts agree that the best source of these vital micro-nutrients is a diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, nuts and fortified dairy products. Download a handy vitamin infographic to use for a quick guide to sources of Vitamin A, B12, C and D.

Eating a healthy diet may also prevent vitamin overdose. Taking too many vitamin supplements can be toxic. It is possible for you to get too much of a good thing.

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Facts you should know about Vitamin A

Vitamin A is important for healthy vision and maintenance of a healthy immune system. Vitamin A also helps your heart, lungs, kidneys and reproductive system function properly. It also strengthens your teeth and bones, while it helps your skin and mucous membranes work more efficiently to rebel bacteria and viruses.

When you do not consume enough Vitamin A, you may have a lower resistance to disease and infection, and experience poor vision especially at night.

In developing countries where people do not receive enough vitamin A, the deficiency has led to blindness, poor bone growth and even death.

One of the earliest signs of Vitamin A deficiency is night blindness. If you are experiencing this symptom, you should make an appointment with your health care provider. If night blindness is caused by a Vitamin A deficiency; it could cause permanent blindness if it is left unchecked.

There are two types of Vitamin A, animal-based (retinoids) and plant based (cartenoids). Your body will process each type in a different way.

Vitamin A consumed from plant-based foods is known as provitamin A or cartenoids. Brightly colored fruit and vegetables such as butternut squash, cantaloupes, carrots, kale, mangoes, pumpkins, spinach, and sweet potatoes contain high levels of vitamin A. Your body converts these plant-based cartenoids into a form of retinoid that it can use. Cartenoids are water-soluble. When the body has too many cartnoids, they are passed through the digestive system.

Too much vitamin A can be toxic

We consume a different form of vitamin A from animal products such as beef liver and cheese. These animal-based retinoids are fat-soluble and are stored by our bodies in the liver. Since animal-sourced Vitamin A is stored by the body, it can accumulate to toxic levels.

If you eat a healthy diet, you should take care when consuming retinoid Vitamin A supplements.  Also be cautious when consuming other highly concentrated sources such as cod liver oil, especially if you consume large amounts of alcohol frequently. This combination may tax your liver.

Contact your health care provider if you notice any of the warning signs of fat-soluble-Vitamin A toxicity. They may include hair loss, confusion, liver damage and bone loss along with dizziness, nausea, headaches, coma, and sometimes death. Pregnant women who take high doses of vitamin A may be at a higher risk of having a baby with birth defects.

There may also be a danger with some cartenoid supplements. Some studies show that people who smoke or have smoked and take synthetic cartenoids may be at a higher risk of lung cancer.

However, when cartenoids are consumed naturally at high levels, the beta-carotene found in fruits and vegetables gives the skin a yellow-orange glow, this condition is harmless and will go away eventually if you stop eating cartenoids.

When you visit your health care provider, it is always important to tell him or her which vitamins and supplements that you are taking for the most effective treatment. Some weight-loss drugs or prescription medications also can cause dangerously high levels of Vitamin A in the blood.

How much vitamin A do you need?

For adults and children aged 4 years and older, the United States Food and Drug Administration has established a vitamin A Daily Value (DV) of 5,000 IU. Below is a chart from the USDA that shows the vitamin A content of some common foods*.

 

Food IU
per serving
Percentage
DV
Sweet potato, baked in skin, 1 whole 28,058 561
Beef liver, pan fried, 3 ounces 22,175 444
Spinach, frozen, boiled, ½ cup 11,458 229
Carrots, raw, ½ cup 9,189 184
Pumpkin pie, commercially prepared, 1 piece 3,743 249
Cantaloupe, raw, ½ cup 2,706 54
Peppers, sweet, red, raw, ½ cup 2,332 47
Mangos, raw, 1 whole 2,240 45
Black-eyed peas (cowpeas), boiled, 1 cup 1,305 26
Apricots, dried, sulfured, 10 halves 1,261 25
Broccoli, boiled, ½ cup 1,208 24
 
*source ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional

 

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Facts you should know about Vitamin B

There is not just one vitamin B, but a whole complex of these water-soluble vitamins. Water-soluble vitamins do not get stored in the body, but pass through your body’s digestive system. B vitamins must be restored every day. This is fairly easy since B vitamins are found in both plant-based and animal-based foods.

The members of the vitamin B family often work together to keep you healthy. B6 and B12 are two of the most recognizable vitamins in this complex, but you may be familiar with the names of some other vitamins as well. The entire complex includes:

  • B1 (thiamine)
  • B2 (riboflavin)
  • B3 (niacin)
  • B5 (pantothenic acid)
  • B6 (pyridoxine)
  • B7 (biotin)
  • B9 (folic acid or folate)
  • B12 (cobalamin)

We need each of the B vitamins for growth and development. They are also needed by the body to turn food into energy and form healthy blood cells.

If you have a vitamin B deficiency, you may be at risk for anemia, tiredness, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, depression, numbness and tingling in the arms and legs, muscle cramps, respiratory infections, hair loss, and eczema. Vitamin B deficiency can also lead to birth defects and poor growth in children. You consume B vitamins when you eat fish, poultry, meat, eggs, dairy products, leafy green vegetables, beans and peas. Many cereals and some breads have been fortified with B vitamins.

Why is Vitamin B1 (thiamin) important? Vitamin B1 is important for a healthy immune system. It may help diabetic pain and stop the progression of diabetic-related kidney disease and lower the risk of heart disease.

Vitamin B1 may also prevent risk of canker sores, cataracts and glaucoma, cervical cancer and motion sickness. It may also help digestive problems including ulcerative colitis. There is an indication that thiamin may also enhance athletic performance, increase energy, fight stress and improve mental attitude.

Thiamine is found in yeast, cereal grains, beans, nuts and meat.

Why is Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) important?

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) helps your body produce energy and decreases fatigue. It also may help decrease muscle cramps and improve muscle health. Riboflavin is important for nerve health and may prevent burning foot syndrome and carpal tunnel problems. Riboflavin may also help migraines, memory loss and decrease the risk of eye fatigue, cataracts and glaucoma.

Riboflavin also can enhance your immune system and maintain healthy hair, prevent acne and improve the health of skin and nails, while it slows aging. Riboflavin is also important for reproductive function.

Good sources of vitamin B1 include milk, meat, eggs, nuts, enriched flour and green vegetables.

Why is Vitamin B3 (niacin and niacinamide) important?

Vitamin B3 (niacin and niacinamide) has a role in energy production in cells and helps keep the skin, nervous system, and digestive system healthy.

Niacin may help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels as it improves circulation. It may reduce migraine headaches and dizziness.

Niacin or niacinamide has been used to treat pellagra, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease and age-related loss of thinking skills, depression, motion sickness, alcohol dependence and edema.

Vitamin B3 may have some effect in the treatment of acne, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), arthritis, premenstrual headache, digestive issues and hypertension. Vitamin B3 may also reduce the effects of aging, may improve circulation, promote relaxation and prevent cataracts.

Like the other B vitamins, the best sources of niacin include yeast, meat, fish, milk, eggs, green vegetables, beans and cereal grains.

Why is Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) important?

Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) influences normal growth and development. You consume vitamin B5 when you eat meat, vegetables, cereal grains, legumes, eggs, and milk.

Pantothenic acid has been used for a myriad of different health issues. However, there is a lack of scientific evidence to prove efficacy. Vitamin B5 has been used to treat:

As you can see, Vitamin B5 may have an impact on almost every system in the body. It is an important element for health.

Why is Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) important?

Vitamin B6 is one of the most recognizable forms of the Vitamin B complex. Vitamin B6 helps your body make antibodies to fight disease and manufacture hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the red blood cells. It also helps your body break down protein, keep blood sugar levels regulated and helps you maintain nerve function. Vitamin B6 also helps your body metabolize food through enzyme reactions. Some studies show that vitamin B6 can improve memory and may help premenstrual syndrome.

Vitamin B6 is especially important for a baby’s brain development during pregnancy.

Vitamin B6 is naturally present in avocados, bananas, meat, poultry, dried beans, nuts, potatoes and other starchy vegetables. Citrus fruits and whole grains also contain vitamin B6.

How much vitamin B6 does a body need?

It depends on your age. The older you are, the more vitamin B6 you need.

 

Life Stage Recommended Amount
Birth to 6 months 0.1 mg
Infants 7–12 months 0.3 mg
Children 1–3 years 0.5 mg not more than 30 mg
Children 4–8 years 0.6 mg not more than 40 mg
Children 9–13 years 1.0 mg not more than 60 mg
Teens 14–18 years (boys) 1.3 mg not more than 80 mg
Teens 14–18 years (girls) 1.2 mg not more than 80 mg
Adults 19–50 years 1.3 mg not more than 100 mg
Adults 51+ years (men) 1.7 mg not more than 100 mg
Adults 51+ years (women) 1.5 mg not more than 100 mg
Pregnant teens and women 1.9 mg not more than 100 mg
Breastfeeding teens and women 2.0 mg not more than 100 mg

 

Be careful if you take supplements that contain vitamin B6, you can easily exceed the safe upper limits of the recommended daily value. Too much vitamin B6 can cause nerve damage, which can cause numbness, painful skin, uncoordinated movements, nausea, heartburn and sensitivity to light.

 

Food Mg per serving Percent of
Daily Value
Chickpeas, canned, 1 cup 1.1 55
Beef Liver, pan fired, 3 ounces .09 45
Tuna, yellowfin, fresh, cooked 3 ounces .09 45
Sockeye salmon, cooked 3 ounces .06 30
Chicken breast, roasted, 3 ounces .05 25
Potatoes, 1 cup boiled .04 20
Turkey, meat only, roasted, 3 ounces .04 20
Banana, 1 medium .04 20

 

Am I getting enough vitamin B6?

Even though vitamin B6 deficiency is uncommon in developed countries like ours, it is good to be aware of the symptoms in case of medication interactions or digestive issues. Vitamin B6 deficiency may cause confusion, depression, irritability and mouth sores.

If you have a kidney disorder, autoimmune disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease or alcohol dependence, you may have a problem getting enough vitamin B6. This deficiency can lead to anemia, itchy skin, depression, confusion, and a weakened immune system.

Always tell your health care provider what vitamins and supplements that you are taking so that he or she can provide the best treatment for you.

Why is Vitamin B7 (biotin) important?

Biotin helps your body digest protein and carbohydrates, metabolize fatty acids and maintain blood sugar levels.

It also helps the body create hormones needed for health. Other times biotin may be used to treat hair loss, brittle nails, skin rashes, diabetes and mild depression.

A biotin deficiency may cause loss of hair and brittle nails. Smoking, pregnancy and gastric bypass surgery may lead to biotin deficiency. Eating raw egg white may also inhibit the body’s ability to absorb biotin.

Small amounts of biotin are found in many types of food including egg yolks, liver, pork, salmon, halibut, soybeans, cow’s milk, goat’s milk, almonds, walnuts, swiss chard, romaine lettuce, spinach, wheat bran and brewer’s yeast.

Adults need about 30 micrograms of biotin a day from dietary sources.

Why is Vitamin B9 (folic acid or folate) important?

Our bodies need vitamin B9 (folic acid or folate) to create new cells in the body and to make and maintain DNA. It is also important for the manufacture of red blood cells. Folic acid and folate is especially important for pregnant women. The Centers for Disease Control recommend that women take 400 mcg of folic acid every day for at least a month before getting pregnant to help prevent major birth defects of the baby's brain and spine.

Leafy green vegetables, fruits, dried beans, peas, nuts, whole grains and enriched breads and cereals are good sources of folic acid.

It may be hard to receive enough folic acid through diet alone. You may consider taking a folic acid supplement.

Why is Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) important?

Vitamin B12 is a well-known member of the vitamin B complex. It is important for your body's growth and development. It helps your body produce nerve cells, blood cells and DNA.

Vitamin B12 is also used to treat memory loss and improve concentration. It also may combat depression by boosting mood and heightening energy levels. Vitamin B12 can strengthen the immune system and slow aging.

It may also lower homocysteine levels, which may increase the risk of disease.

Other maladies that vitamin B12 may improve are infertility issues, diabetes, sleep disorders, osteoporosis, inflammatory bowel syndrome, asthma, allergies and skin infections. It may also prevent cervical and other cancers.

Vitamin B12 is also used as to treat diseases such as ALS, multiple sclerosis, eye diseases such macular degeneration, Lyme disease and diseases of the liver and kidneys.

Vitamin B12 is found in meat, fish and dairy products. It can also be made in a laboratory.

How much vitamin B12 is enough?

The amount of vitamin B12 you need each day depends on your age. Average daily recommended amounts for different ages are listed below in micrograms (mcg):

 

Life Stage Recommended Amount
Birth to 6 months 0.4 mcg
Infants 7–12 months 0.5 mcg
Children 1–3 years 0.9 mcg
Children 4–8 years 1.2 mcg
Children 9–13 years 1.8 mcg
Teens 14–18 years 2.4 mcg
Adults 2.4 mcg
Pregnant teens and women 2.6 mcg
Breastfeeding teens and women 2.8 mcg

 

Animal-based foods are good sources of Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is found naturally in animal-based foods. Plant foods do not naturally provide vitamin B12. Below are sources to consider when planning your menus.

 

Food Micrograms (mcg)
per service
Percent DV
Clams, cooked, 3 ounces 84.1 1,402
Beef liver, cooked, 3 ounces 70.7 1,178
100% B12 fortified breakfast cereals 6.0 100
Rainbow trout, wild, cooked 3 ounces 5.4 90
Sockeye salmon, cooked, 3 ounces 4.8 80
Rainbow trout, farmed, cooked 3 ounces 3.5 .....58
Tuna fish, light, canned in water, 3 ounces 2.5 .....42
Cheeseburger, double patty and bun 2.1 .....35

 

Most people in America have enough vitamin B12 in their diet. However, older adults may have trouble absorbing vitamin B12, as do people who have pernicious anemia or people who have had gastric bypass surgery or who have digestive problems. People who eat a vegetarian or vegan diet may also have a vitamin B12 deficiency.

A Vitamin B12 deficiency can damage the nervous system and cause numbness and tingling in the hands and feet. It’s important to treat vitamin B12 deficiency as soon as possible. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause pernicious anemia.

It may also cause tiredness, weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss, and constipation. Other symptoms of low levels of vitamin B12 can include balance problems, depression, confusion, dementia, poor memory, and soreness of the mouth or tongue.

In infants, signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency include failure to thrive, problems with movement, delays in reaching the typical developmental milestones, and megaloblastic anemia.

Be cautious when testing for a vitamin 12 deficiency. It can be masked by large amounts of folic acid. In order to balance this situation, adults should not consume more than 1,000 mcg of folic acid a day.

Even though large amounts of vitamin B12 may not cause harm, it is always best to tell your doctor, pharmacist, and other health care providers about any dietary supplements and medicines you take. They should be able to tell you if your dietary supplements could interact or interfere with your prescription or over-the-counter medicines or interfere with how your body absorbs, uses or breaks down nutrients.

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Why is Vitamin C important?

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, which means that access amounts of vitamin C are passed from the body through the urine. Your body needs vitamin C to produce collagen, which is needed to repair tissues, heal wounds, repair and maintain cartilage, bones and teeth. It also important in the development of skin, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels.

Vitamin C also helps your body absorb iron and helps your immune system work properly. Vitamin C is also known as an antioxidant that may slow the aging process, prevent cancer, heart disease and arthritis.

Your body cannot make or store vitamin C so it is important to eat vitamin-C-rich food. The best sources of vitamin C are raw fruits and vegetables. Fortunately, vitamin C is found in delicious foods such as:

  • Cantaloupe
  • Citrus fruits and juices, such as orange and grapefruit
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Mango
  • Papaya
  • Pineapple
  • Berries: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries
  • Watermelon
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Green and red peppers
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage
  • Turnip greens
  • Leafy greens
  • Sweet and white potatoes
  • Tomatoes and tomato juice
  • Winter squash

Your daily requirement for vitamin C depends on your age.

The amount of vitamin C you need each day depends on your age. Average daily recommended amounts for different ages are listed below in milligrams (mg).

 

Life Stage Recommended Amount
Birth to 6 months 40 mg
Infants 7–12 months 50 mg
Children 1–3 years 15 mg
Children 4–8 years 25 mg
Children 9–13 years 45 mg
Teens 14–18 years (boys) 75 mg
Teens 14–18 years (girls) 65 mg
Adults (men) 90 mg
Adults (women) 75 mg
Pregnant teens 80 mg
Pregnant women 85 mg
Breastfeeding teens 115 mg
Breastfeeding women 120 mg

 

If you smoke, add 35 mg to the above values to calculate your total daily recommended amount. People who smoke, infants who are not breastfed or fed formula, people who eat a limited diet and people who are struggling with cancer and kidney disease may have a challenge getting enough vitamin C.

 

Food Milligrams (mg)
per serving
Percent (%) DV*
Red pepper, sweet, raw, ½ cup 95 158
Orange juice, ¾ cup 93 155
Orange, 1 medium 70 117
Grapefruit juice, ¾ cup 70 117
Kiwifruit, 1 medium 64 107
Green pepper, sweet, raw, ½ cup 60 100
Broccoli, cooked, ½ cup 51 85
Strawberries, fresh, sliced, ½ cup 49 82
Brussels sprouts, cooked, ½ cup 48 80
Grapefruit, ½ medium 39 65
Broccoli, raw, ½ cup 39 65

 

Lack of vitamin C (below 10 mg per day) may cause scurvy, which causes fatigue, inflammation of the gums, small red or purple spots on the skin, joint pain, poor wound healing, and corkscrew hairs. Scurvy is fatal if it is not treated.

Eating large amounts of fruits and vegetables with a high vitamin C content may lower the risk of heart disease and lower the risk of lung, breast, and colon cancer.

Too much vitamin C can cause diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps. If a person has hemochromatosis, a condition that causes the body to store too much iron, too much vitamin C could damage body tissues. For that reason, there are upper limits of vitamin C for each age of life.

 

Life Stage Upper Safe Limit
Birth to 12 months Not established
Children 1–3 years 400 mg
Children 4–8 years 650 mg
Children 9–13 years 1,200 mg
Teens 14–18 years 1,800 mg
Adults 2,000 mg

 

When taking vitamin C supplements, be aware there may be interactions with other medications. Talk to your pharmacist or health care provider to make sure that your vitamin C supplement is not interfering with other treatments.

You should also be aware that grapefruit or grapefruit juice may interact with some medications.

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Why is vitamin D important?

Vitamin D may be the unsung hero of health. Vitamin D is manufactured in the body when the UVB rays of the sun shine directly on the skin. This starts a chemical reaction that allows the body to produce vitamin D3.

Most of us learned Vitamin D was needed for strong bones and teeth by maintaining normal levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood. Until recently, that was vitamin D’s claim to fame, but research has shown that vitamin D is involved in many other functions in our body.

Vitamin D may also help the immune system, the nervous system, and muscle function. Vitamin D also may reduce inflammation.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it is stored in fat cells. This also means that a person can get too much vitamin D. Though this is hard to do without taking a supplement.

The recommended daily allowance for vitamin D is 15 mcg or 600 IUs per day.

Experts are still studying the effects of Vitamin D deficiency on the body. It’s known that a lack of vitamin D may cause osteomalacia (soft brittle bones). Adults and children who do not get enough D may develop rickets since vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium, a necessary mineral for bone health.

Older people, people who live in the northern hemisphere and people who are homebound may become vitamin D deficient, which can lead to many health problems. In these populations, vitamin D deficiency may also occur because their skin does make vitamin D efficiently when it is exposed to sunlight or their kidneys are less able convert vitamin D to its usable form.

People who have Crohn’s disease or other digestive system issues and people who are obese may also have a problem with vitamin D absorption problems.

What foods provide vitamin D?

In nature, very few foods contain vitamin D naturally. Some of the best sources include salmon, tuna, mackerel and fish liver oils. Small amounts of vitamin D are also found in beef liver, cheese, egg yolks and mushrooms. In the United States, milk and orange juice are fortified with the vitamin.

Age determines the amount of vitamin D a person needs. The amount of vitamin D you need each day depends on your age. Average daily recommended amounts from the Food and Nutrition Board (a national group of experts) for different ages are listed below in International Units (IU):

 

Life Stage Recommended Amount
Birth to 12 months 400 IU
Children 1–13 years 600 IU
Teens 14–18 years 600 IU
Adults 19–70 years 600 IU
Adults 71 years and older 800 IU
Pregnant and breastfeeding women 600 IU

 

Be careful with vitamin D supplements. You can get too much of a good thing and vitamin D levels in the blood can be too high. You may have too much vitamin D if you experience nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, constipation, weakness and weight loss.

High levels of calcium combined with too much vitamin D can cause confusion, disorientation and problems with heart rhythm. Excess vitamin D can also damage the kidneys.

Vitamin D toxicity almost always occurs from overuse of supplements. Excessive sun exposure doesn’t cause vitamin D poisoning because the body limits the amount of this vitamin it produces.

If you take Vitamin D supplements, talk to your health care provider or pharmacist to make sure you are not taking too much. You always want to tell your health care provider what supplements or other remedies you are taking to ensure that your supplements are not interfering with other treatments.

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