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Vitamins and other micro-nutrients are good for health. Right?

Well if I say it depends on the amount you take and the sources from where you are getting them - that would be more appropriate. If the amount you take is just the right one, it is good for your health. But if you take less of them, you suffer from deficiency and if you take more of them, you have to face the health-related consequences. 

Yes, Vitamin supplements should take a balanced route in case the doctor advises you to use them. For example let us consider Folic Acid which is a synthetic form of the B vitamin folate. Some scientists strongly recommend avoiding supplementing with folic acid, which has the potential to disrupt normal actions of food folate and is associated with an increased risk of breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers. Folate is important in growing and dividing cells and for preventing neural tube defects in developing fetuses. That is why doctors recommend it for pregnant women.

However, you can get it from natural resources of food and there is no need to take supplements actually. Consuming beans and green vegetables – rich sources of food folate – daily helps women of childbearing age to enter pregnancy in a folate-adequate state; this is important, since folate acts to prevent neural tube defects during the first four weeks of pregnancy, when most women don’t yet know they are pregnant. Since beans and greens contain plenty of folate, there is no reason to worry about being deficient if you are eating a balanced diet. 

On the other hand, synthetic folic acid supplementation is associated with later-life cancer and outcomes and cannot duplicate the health benefits of eating folate-rich food for both mothers and their children.

Still why do most doctors recommend folic acid for pregnant women? You should ask them!

Then another problematic recommendation is Vitamin E.  It is a fat-soluble nutrient  found in many foods. In the body, it acts as an antioxident, helping to protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are compounds formed when our bodies convert the food we eat into energy. People are also exposed to free radicals in the environment from cigarette smoke, air pollution, and ultraviolet light from the sun. The body also needs vitamin E to boost its immune system so that it can fight off invading micro-organisms. It helps to widen blood vessels and keep blood from clotting within them. In addition, cells use vitamin E to interact with each other and to carry out many important functions.

But, Vitamin E supplementation is associated with an increase in risk of heart failure and all-cause mortality. An extended trial of thousands of older people with a history of cardiovascular disease or diabetes who were randomly assigned to take either 400 IUs of vitamin E or a placebo found there was a 19 percent increase in the risk of heart failure in those who took the supplement. An earlier analysis conducted by John Hopkins University researchers also found a link to a six percent increased risk of death in those who consumed a daily dose of 400 IUs or more of vitamin E. Since this nutrient is abundant in raw nuts and seeds and other sources mentioned below, there is no need to expose oneself to a potential risk by taking the supplements. Vegetable oils like wheat germ, sunflower, and safflower oils are among the best sources of vitamin E. Corn and soybean oils also provide some vitamin E. Nuts (such as peanuts, hazelnuts, and, especially, almonds) and seeds (like sunflower seeds) are also among the best sources of vitamin E. Green vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli, provide some vitamin E.

The amount of vitamin E you need each day depends on your age. Average daily recommended intakes are listed below in milligrams (mg) and in International Units (IU). Package labels list the amount of vitamin E in foods and dietary supplements in IU.

Life Stage Recommended Amount
Birth to 6 months 4 mg (6 IU)
Infants 7–12 months 5 mg (7.5 IU)
Children 1–3 years 6 mg (9 IU)
Children 4–8 years 7 mg (10.4 IU)
Children 9–13 years 11 mg (16.4 IU)
Teens 14–18 years 15 mg (22.4 IU)
Adults 15 mg (22.4 IU)
Pregnant teens and women 15 mg (22.4 IU)
Breastfeeding teens and women 19 mg (28.4 IU)

Never take Vitamin E more than the amount required by your body bounded by your age. And never take it as a supplement unless your doctor says it is absolutely necessary for your survival.

Let us go to Vitamin A and Beta-carotene now.  Beta-carotene is a pigment found in plants that gives them their color. The name beta-carotene is derived from the Latin name for carrot. It gives yellow and orange fruits and vegetables their rich hues. 

In the body, beta-carotene converts into Vitamin A (retinol). We need vitamin A for good vision and eye health, for a strong immune system, and for healthy skin and mucous membranes. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant too. It protects the body from damaging molecules called free radicals. Free radicals damage cells through a process known as oxidation. Over time, this damage can lead to a number of chronic illnesses. There is good evidence that eating more antioxidants from foods helps boost your immune system, protect against free radicals, and may lower your risk of heart disease and cancer. But the issue is a little more complicated when it comes to taking antioxidant supplements.

Taking big doses of vitamin A can be toxic, but your body only converts as much vitamin A from beta-carotene as it needs. That means beta-carotene is considered a safe source of vitamin A. However, too much beta-carotene can be dangerous for people who smoke (Getting high amounts of either vitamin A or beta-carotene from food, not from supplements, is safe). 

Beta-carotene supplementation has a strong link to increased cancer risk. A study was halted early because it showed participants in the group taking beta-carotene and vitamin A had increased their risk of developing lung cancer. Before it was halted, the study showed a 28 percent greater incidence of lung cancer and 17 percent more deaths from all causes compared with those who did not take beta-carotene. A follow-up showed that for women, these negative effects lingered even after stopping the supplementation. Supplementing with beta-carotene may interfere with the absorption of other important carotenoids from food (of which there are more than 600). 

Vitamin A supplementation may dramatically weaken bones, increasing risk of hip fracture. Adverse effects have been reported at levels found in most multivitamins on the market. One study found that a 1.5 mg of Vitamin A (5000 IUs, 100 percent of the Daily Value listed on Supplement Facts labels) was associated with reduced bone mineral density and increased hip fracture risk compared to a 0.5 mg. In addition, vitamin A supplementation has also been associated with a 16 percent increase in death from any cause in a meta-analysis of studies investigating supplementing with it. It is wiser to get your vitamin A from plant food-derived, provitamin A carotenoids, such as alpha-carotene and beta-carotene.

High vitamin A foods include sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, winter squashes, lettuce, dried apricots, cantaloupe, bell peppers, fish, liver, and tropical fruits. The current daily value for Vitamin A is 5000 international units (IU). If you take these natural foods that is enough. There is no need to go for supplements.

Overconsumption of vitamin A can lead to jaundice, nausea, loss of appetite, irritability, vomiting, and even hair loss. Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin, and therefore, needs to be consumed with fat in order to have optimal absorption. 

Other harmful considerations should be...

Selenium: You may never have heard of selenium before, but it is an antioxidant that the body needs. It’s essential for good health.  Selenium is a trace mineral needed by the body in small amounts for good health. It is incorporated into proteins to make selenoproteins, which are important antioxidant enzymes. The antioxidant properties of selenoproteins help prevent cellular damage from free radicals that can cause the development of chronic diseases.  Other selenoproteins help regulate thyroid function and play a role in the immune system.

Plant foods are the major dietary sources of selenium in most countries throughout the world. The content of selenium in food depends on the selenium content of the soil where the plants are grown. Selenium also can be found in some meats and seafood. Animals that eat grains or plants that were grown in selenium-rich soil have higher levels of selenium in their muscles. Bread and some nuts are also common sources of dietary selenium.

Selenium deficiency can lead to Keshan disease. The main symptom of Keshan disease is myocardial necrosis, leading to weakening of the heart. Selenium deficiency also contributes to Kashin-Beck disease. Kashin-Beck disease results in atrophy, degeneration, and necrosis of cartilage tissue in the joints. The body also becomes more susceptible to illness caused by other nutritional, biochemical, or infectious diseases. Natural foods that contain selenium : Brazil nuts,  tuna fish, beef, cod, turkey, chicken, eggs, cottage cheese, oatmeal, white or brown rice. 

A selenium deficiency can cause symptoms of hypothyroidism, including extreme fatigue, mental slowing, goiter, mental retardation, and miscarriages.

Selenium deficiency, although rare, occurs when the body does not have enough selenium. Then a supplement is recommended.

But at high levels selenium is linked to diabetes, elevated cholesterol, prostate cancer, cardiovascular disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), impaired immune function and impaired thyroid function. Paradoxically, too little selenium can be harmful, too. The best course of action is to get sufficient amounts from healthful foods. Those who are eating a healthful diet rich in produce, with nuts and seeds don’t need extra selenium.   

Copper: It is also an essential micro mineral that benefits bone, nerve, and skeletal health; therefore, although it is not that common, a copper deficiency can actually harm the body in multiple ways.

Copper is important for the production of hemoglobin and red blood cells, as well as for the proper utilization of iron and oxygen within the blood.

Copper plays an important role in maintaining a healthymetabolism, as well as contributing to bodily growth and repair. It is needed for the body to properly carry out many enzyme reactions and to maintain the health of connective tissue.

Because the body uses copper frequently and cannot store it in sufficient amounts, eating copper-rich foods like liver, oysters, nuts and seeds, wild seafood and fish, beans, whole grains, asparagus, mushrooms, turnip greens and other  vegetables is the best way to prevent a copper deficiency. 

But it  should not be taken as a supplement because excess copper is linked to increased cancer and overall mortality and increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Reducing excess meat intake and avoiding multivitamins containing copper are effective ways to prevent copper excess.

Iron : Iron is an essential element for blood production. About 70 percent of your body's iron is found in the red blood cells of your blood called hemoglobin and in muscle cells called myoglobin. Hemoglobin is essential for transferring oxygen in your blood from the lungs to the tissues. Myoglobin, in muscle cells, accepts, stores, transports and releases oxygen.

About 6 percent of body iron is a component of certain proteins, essential for respiration and energy metabolism, and as a component of enzymes involved in the synthesis of collagen and some neurotransmitters. Iron also is needed for proper immune function.

Iron deficiency leads to anemia and weakness.

You can get natural iron from these sources: Meat and poultry, sea food such as fish, all green vegetables.

Iron should only be taken if there is a defined need or deficiency. Heme iron is found in animal products and non-heme iron is derived from plant foods and supplements. The heme iron in meat is more absorbable than that in vegetables, making the risks associated with excess iron more likely. There is evidence that excessive iron stores – because iron is an oxidant – increase the risk of colon cancer, heart disease, and neurodegenerative diseases. However, supplemental non-heme iron can be useful if one has suboptimal iron levels, for example, due to pregnancy or heavy menstrual bleeding.

Nature is a good provider of all the nutrients our bodies need. There is no need to take supplements  if we take a very balanced diet consisting of variety of natural foods. Supplements are needed only in extreme conditions. Take them only if they are absolutely necessary and only in limited amounts recommended. 

Read here more on vitamins: stability-of-some-vitamins-in-different-cooking-and-environmental-c...

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