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Are vitamin supplements safe? 

Yes, but as with most things, doing or taking something in excess is never good.

There are 13 vitamins our bodies need: vitamins A, C, D, E, K and B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and folate). All 13 vitamins are either found in the foods we eat or made by our bodies. For example, our bodies can make vitamins D and K, but we also supply our bodies with both through food intake as well.

Each vitamin has a specific job and is necessary for our bodies to grow and develop normally. The first ingredient to good health and appropriate vitamin intake is eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. Vitamins and supplements should only be used to fill in nutritional gaps. For example, people who eat a vegetarian diet may need to take a vitamin B12 supplement. Also, if you have low levels of certain vitamins, you may develop a deficiency disease. For example, if you don't get enough vitamin D, you may develop rickets. Also, vitamins help prevent medical problems. For example, vitamin A prevents night blindness.

Although in some cases you may need to take a daily multivitamin for optimal health, high doses of some vitamins can make you sick. Everyone has a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), the amount of a vitamin you need to stay healthy and avoid a nutritional deficiency. Your RDA depends on gender and age. It is important to remember that if your total daily doses through your diet and vitamins/supplements are too high, you can create health problems for yourself. Specifically, vitamins A, D, E and K can build up in your body and become toxic.

Your doctor may recommend you take more than the RDA of a particular vitamin if you have a specific health problem. For most women and men, however, one multivitamin daily is sufficient.

For more information on vitamin supplements or to set up an appointment for nutritional counseling, contact Rebecca Lee, registered dietician at East Jefferson General Hospital, at (504) 454-4077.

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