Nutrient overload

Fortification can be a useful way to provide essential nutrients to a population, but what are the effects of adding supplements to our drinks? Image: Cyril Attias

Fortification can be a useful way to provide essential nutrients to a population, but what are the effects of adding supplements to our drinks? Image: Cyril Attias

As a child, we all remember the sweet, squishy vitamin chews that claimed to enhance our immune systyem, ensure healthy growth and strengthen our bodies. Recently there has been an explosion in the vitamin drinks market. We have all seen Vitaminwaters, Naked Juice and Tropicana with added Vitamin C marketed as ‘heathy’. But are they really?

Recent studies have found that many people are exceeding the safe limits of nutrient intake. Food fortification is the process of adding micronutrients to food. In the 1900s, medical evidence that 1 in 3 people had nutrient deficiencies led to a series of campaigns to introduce a range of nutrients, including iodine, iron and vitamin A, to staple foods such as bread and milk.

A proposal to restrict the number of fortified foods was rejected in the US in the 1970s, which opened the door to the explosion of vitamin enhanced beverages.
Some vitamins are water-soluble, so if you have an excess of them, they are excreted in urine, damaging organs and tissues as they are processed.

However, fat-soluble vitamins are stored by body tissue and accumulate over time. It is difficult to overdose on vitamins from regular food as you’ll feel full long before you eat too many vitamins. However, with manufactured foods it is easy to consume too many vitamins without even realising. Fortified cereal and milk at breakfast, an energy bar between meals and enriched pasta for dinner could lead you to being over the recommended intake of vitamins.

It is true that these micronutrients are essential for the body. They are co-factors in enzymes that catalyze important reactions in the body allowing us to transfer energy, maintain body temperature and fight disease. Antioxidants react with oxygen species that damage DNA and cells, however, these are needed to fight off infection and cancer cells. Vitamin overdose tends to only give off subtle signs, depending on which ones are present in excess.

The vitamins consumed in excess tend to be vitamins B, C, folic acid and calcium. You may have trouble sleeping and concentrating, or nerve problems such as tingling and numbness.

Luckily, nutrient excess is easy to avoid. There is no need to spend your limited cash on expensive vitamin drinks and supplements claiming to boost your energy, focus, and immune functions when they may actually be putting you in danger. Grab an apple, a glass of milk and bunch of veg to naturally get your intake of micronutrients.

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