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Americans spent $21 billion on vitamins and supplements in 2015. Some of these expenditures were almost certainly legitimate. The American lifestyle, with limited exposure to sun in summer in favor of air conditioned cool, lends itself to vitamin D deficiency. Amazingly, considering the abundance of food in the United States, some Americans manage to get vitamin C deficiencies simply by eating too much fast food. Millions of Americans have specialized problems due to genetics that leave them susceptible to specific vitamin deficiencies, especially of the activated form of folic acid, methylfolate, and tens of millions of Americans take so many prescription drugs that their drug interaction checkers warn them that medications will deplete certain vitamins and minerals they need to supplement.
Taking vitamins just because they are "vital," however, can lead to serious health issues, especially in the elderly. Let's look at seven common avoidable vitamin and mineral supplement problems that plague older people in the USA.
1. Needing Vitamin K2, Getting Vitamin K1.
Vitamin K2 is a naturally occurring vitamin that is particularly abundant in egg yolks, certain cheeses such as Gouda and Camembert, and high-fat dairy products, all foods that Americans have been told by their doctors to avoid for cardiovascular health. Ironically, not getting vitamin K2 causes the atherosclerosis that avoiding high-fat foods is supposed to (and doesn't actually) prevent. Vitamin K2 regulates the transport of calcium from the bloodstream into tissues. It ensures that calcium goes into bones, not into cholesterol-laden plaques in the linings of arteries. Vitamin K2 is available in these high-fat foods and in a fermented soybean product called natto, and in supplements, usually combined with vitamin D. Unfortunately, most doctors don't understand the differences between the forms of vitamin K and encourage their patients to get more vitamin K1 (which the body uses to make clotting factors) from leafy greens such as kale, and more kale, and even more kale.
2. Not Getting Enough Fiber and Plant Phytochemicals Associated with Vitamin K1 Because of Medication Restrictions
Another common problem for aging Americans is not getting enough vitamin K1, because doctors have told them not to eat leafy greens. This form of vitamin K doesn't regulate calcium, but it does regulate clotting factors. People who are on warfarin (Coumadin) for blood clotting issues can't eat leafy greens because the leafy greens contain vitamin K1, and warfarin works by counteracting vitamin K1. The problem is that those leafy greens are also sources of lutein and zeaxanthin for eye health and also of soluble fiber that is so important for probiotics and colon health. The solution usually is to change anticoagulants. More and more Americans are getting prescriptions for other medications that reduce blood clotting through another mechanism.
3. Getting Too Much Calcium in a Single Dose
There's no doubt that calcium is essential for bone health, but it doesn't do your body any good to take more than about 400 mg in a single dose. That's the limit to how much calcium can be absorbed. If you take more, you are just making yourself constipated.