8 Myths About Vitamins You Always Thought Were True


If you’re taking over-the-counter vitamins without consulting a doctor, you may be headed for trouble. Vitamins aren’t regulated the way prescription drugs are, and some studies claim that vitamins in large doses can actually cause more harm than good.

While people with a vitamin deficiency may find a supplement helpful, the rest of us may be taking more vitamins than needed, or may not need a supplement at all. In fact, it’s possible to get your recommended daily allowance of vitamins (and minerals) from a well-rounded diet.

Before you start taking vitamins, consider these myths about vitamins that aren’t actually true.

Myth #1: You ‘need’ to supplement your diet with vitamins

If you take vitamins thinking it will make up what your diet lacks, you’re doing it wrong. Vitamins naturally exist in a variety of foods, from fruits and vegetables to grains and proteins. Even packaged goods like crackers boast of added vitamins. Vitamin deficiency is definitely a real thing — for example, lack of vitamin C causes scurvy — but you don’t need more than a small serving per day to ward that off.

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Myth #2: The more vitamins you take, the better

People might think the more vitamins you take, the healthier you are. But this isn’t true: you can definitely suffer from too high a vitamin intake. Although your body is able to rid itself from some excess vitamins, there are some vitamins that stay in the body.

The difference is that some vitamins dissolve in water, while some dissolve in fat. Vitamin C is water-soluble so it can be excreted through sweat or urine, but vitamin A, which is fat-soluble, cannot. People usually take vitamin A to try to improve their eyesight (a myth we’ll touch on next). But an overabundance of vitamin A is toxic and can cause hair loss, liver damage, and (ironically) blurred vision.

Myth #3: Vitamin A can improve your eyesight

If you’ve been loading up on carrots or taking a vitamin A supplement to improve your eyesight or keep it from getting worse, this one’s going to hurt. While vitamin A does help your body process vision in dim light, it won’t make your eyesight better.

The reason for this myth goes back to World War II, when England didn’t want the Axis powers to know they had invented radar. They spread a false rumor that the English had superior eyesight to spot enemy planes because of carrots. It’s a myth, like the Popeye myth about spinach giving you super strength.

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Myth #4: All the B vitamins are equally important

Vitamin B is actually spread over eight different compounds, like B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B9 (folic acid), and B12 (cobalamin). The B complex of vitamins affects your brain function and the metabolism of your cells. They also prevent infections and help your body process food into energy.

B vitamins are present in proteins and leafy green vegetables, but they’re also added to cereals and breads. B12 and B6 are the most important ones, as they deal with the formation of red blood cells. A deficiency in those can cause anemia. Since they’re found almost everywhere, it’s unlikely that you would need to supplement them.

Myth #5: Vitamin C helps you shake the common cold

Many people swear by vitamin C as a way to prevent a cold or stop one in its early stages. There are even vitamin C-containing supplements marketed just for that purpose. But vitamin C does not affect a cold.

Another supplement people swear by is zinc, but that too does not prevent or stop colds. While some vitamins do affect how well your immune system works, remember that only a small amount per day is necessary. One orange or a cup of broccoli contains a whole day’s recommended dose of vitamin C.

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Myth #6: You need to spend hours in the sun to get enough vitamin D 

Vitamin D deficiency is something everyone should avoid, since it can cause back pain, depression, and even brittle bones. And believe it or not, you can get a vitamin D deficiency by being indoors too long.

Luckily, the sun is your best source of vitamin D. But you don’t need long hours of exposure to get your daily recommended dose. You can get enough vitamin D by going outside at midday for 10-30 minutes, several times a week (even if you’re wearing sunscreen). Also, vitamin D is a major presence in fish and mushrooms, so you can supplement your diet by eating these foods.

Myth #7: Vitamin E boosts your energy

People used to take vitamin E supplements to promote higher energy levels, but really it mainly helps with the immune system. But you need to keep in mind that Vitamin E is fat-soluble, not water-soluble, so it’s easy to take too much Vitamin E. You have to be careful: an overdose of Vitamin E can really do damage.

Vitamin E excess can make it difficult for your blood to clot, causing wounds to bleed longer. If you’re on blood-thinning medication, Vitamin E just makes it worse. You can get vitamin E naturally through vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and those same leafy green vegetables from earlier.

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Myth #8: Calcium supplements increase bone density

Everybody knows kids need to drink milk to build strong bones and muscles, and older women need calcium to ward off osteoporosis. But there’s a problem: there are no studies showing that calcium supplements increase bone density at all.

If you don’t drink milk, it’s leafy green vegetables to the rescue. They have all the calcium you need for your daily recommended allowance. Just be careful not to exceed these levels. Too much calcium can result in kidney stones and other urinary system troubles.