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Vitamin C Overload - Is It Harmful?

Posted in General Health 16 Jan, 2015

It seems that more people than ever are striving to achieve a healthier lifestyle, in part due to constant warnings about the increase of chronic illnesses relating to our lifestyle choices. Prof. Christopher Murray, from the Institute of Health Metrics Evaluation (IHME), states that the population has shifted from 'early death to chronic disability'. In effect, we are living longer but are sicker than ever. The King's Fund claims that over 15 million people in the UK live with a long term chronic illness for which there is currently no cure, such as diabetes, arthritis, asthma.

With many taking the decision to improve their lifestyle and hopefully ward off illness for longer, some are turning to vitamin tablets and dietary supplements to help them with this. But is too much of what is supposedly good for us actually harmful? Used by sailors in the 1800s to cure scurvy, Vitamin C is one of the best known vitamins, essential for the human body to function well. A powerful antioxidant, this vitamin helps to maintain connective tissues, bones, skin and blood vessels in the body. It is also important in strengthening the immune system and can even provide benefits by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol. It is clear to see why having a regular intake of this vitamin can contribute to a healthier lifestyle. The NIH (National Institute of Health) states that the daily intake of Vitamin C should be:

  • Men- 90 mg per day
  • Women- 75 mg per day
  • Children – 25 – 50mg per day (depending on age)
  • Pregnant women - 85 mg per day
  • Breastfeeding women - 120 mg per day.

Fortunately, Vitamin C is easily accessible through various foods such as oranges, broccoli, potatoes, strawberries, lemons, spinach, peppers and many others. Eating these foods should provide the recommended amount. But what happens if supplements are taken in addition, leading to a 'megadosage' of Vitamin C? According to the NHS, taking more than 1000mg of Vitamin C in a day can cause undesirable side effects such as:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Flatulence
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Heartburn
  • Abdominal cramps

Although the body will usually expel any excess vitamins through urine, these side effects can still occur. Worst case scenario, an overdose of Vitamin C can even cause kidney stones.

It is advisable to stick to a balanced diet, with no excesses. If you are taking multivitamin supplements, ensure that you are not getting far more than the recommended daily amount, and that your food and the tablet combined do not add up to an overdose. See your doctor for regular check-ups to ensure you have no deficiencies and to even establish a healthy eating regime. In this way, it is possible to live healthier for longer.

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