Vitamins participate in a wide range of functions in the body. We need them for our health and general wellbeing. Although vitamins are the integral component of a healthy diet and we need to consume them every day, there’s still a lot we need to learn about these micronutrients. Well, that’s exactly the main subject of this post. Scroll down to learn things you probably didn’t know about vitamins. You’re in for a surprise.
1. Vitamin supplements are the most popular.
The dietary supplements industry keeps getting stronger. Many people turn to dietary supplements when they are unable to obtain a sufficient amount of a certain nutrient through diet alone. Others opt for dietary supplements in cases when it’s difficult to get access to a certain herb or compound.
The CDC report showed 57.6% of US adults reported the use of any dietary supplements within the last 30 days in 2017/18. Women were more likely to use dietary supplements than men with a ratio of 63.8% to 50.8%. The same report also revealed the most common dietary supplements were multivitamins followed by vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids (1).
One report from 2019 showed the use of dietary supplements expanded to 77% of adults. A vast majority of consumers were women with a female to male ratio of 79% to 74%. The most popular supplements among the US adults were (2):
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin B complex
- Omega 3 fatty acids
- Green tea
- Vitamin E
What reports consistently show is the ever-increasing use of dietary supplements. While the number of consumers is changing, one thing remains the same – vitamin supplements are the most popular.
2. Many vitamin supplements don’t work.
Nowadays, we have hundreds of brands and vitamin supplements at our disposal. Not all of them are equally good for us. In fact, evidence shows many vitamin supplements fail to provide significant health benefits.
Published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology, one extensive review found many multivitamins, vitamin D, vitamin C, and calcium supplements provide no consistent health benefit or harm. Scientists were surprised to uncover so few positive effects of some of the most frequently consumed supplements today. For that reason, you need to be conscious of the supplements you’re buying and taking (3).
3. Some vitamins are stored in the body, others are not.
The human body doesn’t treat all vitamins the same way. The difference in “treatment” or “handling” happens because not all vitamins are equal. We can divide them into two categories:
- Fat-soluble vitamins – include vitamins A, D, E, and K. These vitamins are dissolved in fat and absorbed by fat globules that travel through the small intestines. Then, fat-soluble vitamins are distributed throughout the body in the bloodstream. The body stores fat-soluble vitamins in the liver and adipose (fat) tissues for further use (4).
- Water-soluble vitamins – include vitamin C and B-complex vitamins such as thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), biotin (vitamin B7), folate (vitamin B9), and cobalamin (vitamin B12). They are dissolved in water and readily absorbed into tissues for immediate use. For this reason, the body is unable to store water-soluble vitamins. Any vitamin B or C the body doesn’t use as it passes through your system is lost, usually through urination. As a result, you need a fresh supply of these vitamins every day.
4. More is not better.
When something is good for us we are inclined to believe the more we take the better the effects are going to be. In order to avoid nutritional deficiencies and improve health, some people may take a lot of vitamins thinking more is better. It doesn’t really work that way. Having excess vitamins in the body can be equally damaging as a deficiency. That’s why it’s important to adhere to recommended daily intake for different vitamins and other macro-and micronutrients.
For example, the body can store fat-soluble vitamins and it’s possible to accumulate them to toxic levels when consumed in excess. Generally speaking, taking any vitamin in excess can cause toxicity. Most people overdo it with vitamin D and folic acid (5).
Taking supplements, fortified foods, and not paying attention to foods you eat may cause various problems. Symptoms of vitamin toxicity may vary from one vitamin to another but may include nausea, vision changes, skin changes, bone pain, among others.
Vitamin toxicity is not common, but it is a possible scenario among persons who aren’t careful about vitamin intake. To avoid risks, it’s important to stick to the recommended daily value of different vitamins and focus primarily on obtaining them from food.
5. The best time to take vitamins varies.
Vitamin supplements come with dosage instructions, but we are usually told to take them once or twice a day. So it’s easy to take a vitamin first thing in the morning and then at night. In some situations, this works, but in others, it does not. The best time to take vitamins varies depending on the specific vitamins you’re taking, actually (6).
The optimal time to take fat-soluble vitamins is with the evening meal. Ideally, you should take them with a meal that contains oils or saturated fats that promote their absorption.
On the other hand, water-soluble vitamins absorb best when you take them on an empty stomach. For that reason, the ideal time to take these vitamins is the first thing in the morning. You can also take them 30 minutes before eating or two hours after a meal.
Vitamins from a B-complex are a specific story. The ideal time to take them is on an empty stomach in the morning.
Prenatal vitamins should be taken before lunch. Some brands of prenatal vitamins recommend taking them on an empty stomach or with a glass of water. However, some women may notice this regimen, in the morning or without food, is making them sick. In this case, it may be useful to take prenatal vitamins before bedtime.
6. Vitamin D is not, exactly, a vitamin.
Vitamin D is crucial for our health and wellbeing. This fat-soluble vitamin promotes the absorption of calcium in the gut and it is also necessary for other functions such as bone growth, immune function, among others (7).
Also known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is present in some foods and added to others. But, what most people don’t know is that vitamin D is not, actually, a real vitamin. What is it, then? Vitamin D is a prohormone or precursor of the hormone.
Well, vitamins are nutrients our body can’t produce on its own. We need to obtain them through diet. That said, the body can produce vitamin D (8). The production of this micronutrient in the body occurs when the sun’s UV rays strike the skin and trigger the synthesis of vitamin D.
7. Vitamin D comes from sheep’s wool.
No, this is not a joke. Most of the world’s vitamin D pills come from the greasy wool of sheep, primarily Australian sheep to be more precise. What’s sheep got to do with vitamin D? It’s all about lanolin, a mixture of fatty acids produced by sheep’s oil glands. About 15% of lanolin is a type of cholesterol, which is extracted and then oxidized to produce a new substance radiated with UV light. This creates a precursor of vitamin D. The whole process is set up to mimic the actual production of vitamin D in the body (9).
Of course, not all vitamin D pills are made this way. If you buy vitamin D, you may notice two different forms D2 and D3. The first form is made from plants and found in fortified foods and some supplements. The latter is the only type of this vitamin that comes from sheep’s wool.
8. Eat fruits with skin whenever you can.
In many fruits, and vegetables even, the greatest concentration of much-needed vitamin C is just under the peel (10).
To obtain the vitamin C various fruits and vegetables provide, you may want to eat them with skin on, without peeling. When cooking, don’t overdo it to maintain their nutritional profile (11).
Of course, if you choose not to peel fruits and vegetables, you need to wash and clean them thoroughly.
9. Natural doesn’t mean safe.
Dietary supplements often come with the term “natural” on the packaging. Indeed, many of them are sourced from natural sources. But, just because the source is natural it doesn’t mean the product is safe. You should always keep in mind a lot of processing is involved to deliver a vitamin in the form you take or in a specific combination. All this means you need to be careful regarding the supplements you choose and always stay within recommended limits.
10. Some vitamins can help control appetite.
Appetite control is one of the most important strategies for successful weight loss or maintenance. Easier said than done, for most people! The reality is that most of us struggle to control appetite more than we’d like to admit. The main culprit here is the unhealthy diet. While high in calories, it doesn’t deliver enough fiber and nutrients that keep us satiated. In turn, we are hungry again and eat shortly after the last meal.
Some vitamins can be useful for suppressing appetite. These include B-complex vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, and B6) and vitamin C. You see, B-complex vitamins may encourage normal thyroid function, support metabolism, stabilize blood glucose levels, and other functions that aid weight loss/management and prevent you from overeating (12, 13).
On the other hand, vitamin C can improve the absorption of iron from the diet and thereby indirectly stabilize appetite (14).
11. Vitamins don’t have calories.
Since the main source of vitamins is food, it’s easy to think they contain some calories too. However, just like minerals and water, vitamins do not provide any calories although they are essential nutrients and play a major role in the nutritional profile of different foods, fruits, and vegetables (15).
It’s also useful to mention vitamins don’t really provide energy to your body the same way other nutrients may do. Once the body has absorbed vitamins from food (or supplements), it uses them for many processes including the metabolism of other nutrients and energy production.
12. The body can only absorb a certain amount of vitamins.
As mentioned above in the article, some people may go by the “the more, the better” policy when it comes to vitamin intake. This habit is not the best choice as it may lead to side effects. However, you should also keep in mind the body can only absorb a certain amount of vitamins you consume through diet. For that reason, multivitamin supplements can’t (and shouldn’t) be a replacement for a well-balanced diet. You shouldn’t rely on multivitamins only and forego healthy eating practices at the same time. Plus, it may take much longer for the body to absorb vitamins from supplements, rather than those from food.
13. Taking expired vitamins could be safe.
Not that we encourage you to do so, but vitamins do not expire in a traditional sense like medications do. Instead, they lose potency over time. Taking an expired vitamin is unlikely to cause harm or become toxic. But, you shouldn’t take this as a sign to go ahead and do it. While expired vitamins may not harm you, it’s impossible to obtain a sufficient amount of the specific vitamin or get all the benefits it provides.
14. Deficiencies may cause weight gain.
Excess weight results from an unhealthy diet and other lifestyle habits that are not good for you. The absence of certain nutrients may contribute to weight gain and vitamin D is one of them. Evidence shows people with overweight/obesity tend to have low vitamin D levels. This inspired many scientists to conclude that low vitamin D can cause weight gain (16). A lot more research on this subject is necessary to uncover what connects low vitamin D and weight gain. However, inadequate levels of vitamin B12 could also contribute to excess weight. This confirms yet again why the adequate intake of vitamins is so important.
15. It was believed vitamins contained amino acids.
The Warsaw-born biochemist, Casimir Funk was the first person who coined the term vitamin. Here, vita stands for life in Latin and amine because vitamins were initially thought to contain amino acids. When it turned out vitamins don’t necessarily have to be (or contain) amines, the letter “e” at the end was dropped.
Vitamins keep us healthy and happy, but these micronutrients are largely overlooked and there’s still a lot we need to learn about them. In this post, you’ve had the opportunity to learn things you didn’t know about vitamins or check for the accuracy of the information you’ve come across already. Obtaining vitamins through diet is crucial, but supplements may be helpful in some cases. Just make sure to choose high-quality supplements.