Guru Kate: All About Vitamins

Photo graphic by Nick Foote
Photo graphic by Nick Foote

Vitamin supplements are a nice way of covering all of your nutritional bases. You pop a pill every day, and regardless of what you eat, you figure that you can’t have deficiencies. However, not all multivitamins are created equal.

Because there are too many vitamins and minerals to cover in one article, let’s focus on vitamin D. Alaskans are notorious for being deficient in vitamin D due to the geography’s lack of sunlight. Foods that naturally provide vitamin D are salmon and egg yolks, which isn’t great news for vegans.

Most vitamin D supplements are actually sourced from oil found in sheep’s wool, called lanolin. Lanolin is so close in structure to cholesterol — a kind of fat that is a precursor to many hormones and vitamin D — that scientists mix it with some fancy chemicals and make it into usable and absorbable vitamin D. For the most part, this is an ethical practice and most vegans could accept it.

Only one vitamin is more effective in supplemental form than its natural sources: folic acid. Because of this, some nutritionists argue that vitamin supplementation is useless and a waste of money. They suggest obtaining your daily intake of vitamins through food sources is the only way to go.

While this view is a bit extreme, these professionals have a good point. Multiple vitamins within foods help the absorption of one another. For example, whole milk naturally has calcium and vitamin D. The vitamin D is necessary for your body to effectively use calcium.

Without vitamin D, children and infants can develop rickets, a disease that results in soft, brittle bones. Vitamin D increases the effectiveness of calcium, thus making it worthwhile to eat it in its natural form rather than taking a supplement.

However, many Alaskans do not have the opportunity to obtain sufficient amounts of vitamin D through eating. When sun and salmon are scarce, vitamin D pills or dissolvable tablets are fair solutions. There have even been studies on overweight and obese women of Norway that showed single doses of 20,000 or 40,000 IUs of vitamin D weekly curing mild cases of depression. The typical supplement is 2,000-10,000 IUs daily.

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Although vitamin D is fat soluble and therefore can stay in your body for a long time, the overdosing ranges are much more broad because the human body produces it naturally. The listed tolerable upper limit is 4,000 IUs of vitamin D per day, but reports state that 10,000-40,000 IUs per day are safe, just not for the long-term. Each person handles vitamin D differently and therefore needs a different supplement level. Any type of dosage should be taken under the guidance of a doctor, as there could be side effects.

If you’re on a vitamin and mineral supplementation plan that works for you, continue it. Make sure to cross-reference your supplement labels to ensure you aren’t overdosing on any one nutrient, and keep a balanced diet regardless. If you’re thinking about starting a supplementation plan, consult a doctor or nutritionist. They can help sort out where your deficiencies are and what supplementation would be best for your body.