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Many people swear by taking vitamin supplements to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Today over three billion dollars is spent on vitamin supplements each year in the United States alone.

But, are they really necessary? As with most things, there are both positive and negative effects of vitamins so you should carefully weight the factors before deciding if you should take vitamins or not.

What are Vitamins?

Vitamins are natural substances that are found in plants and animals. The body uses these to stay healthy. There are both water soluble and fat soluble vitamins. Water soluble vitamins are easily absorbed by your body and do not need bile acids. Water soluble vitamins that are not needed are removed by your kidneys as waste. Fat soluble vitamins, in contrast, use bile acids to absorb in the body. Your body stores these in body fat for use when you need them. Eating fats or oils that are not digested can block fat soluble vitamins.

Vitamins are best if attained through natural sources. If you eat a well balanced diet with foods from all the food groups, it is quite likely you will not need to add vitamin supplements to your diet plan. However, if you do not eat a well balanced meal, you may need supplements to enhance the vitamins that you are not naturally getting. You should always speak with your doctor before taking vitamins in addition to your diet.

Why use them?

There are certain medical conditions where it is advisable to add vitamin supplements. For women who are trying to get pregnant, folic acid may be good to add as a supplement. Lack of folic acid can lead to birth defects in babies. Because these start very early in the pregnancy, the woman should take it before getting pregnant. Prenatal vitamins are also commonly prescribed to protect against anemia and to add calcium and folic acid. If you are at risk for osteoporosis, a calcium supplement may be recommended. If you are a vegetarian or vegan a vitamin B12 supplement may be advised.

Vitamins are not dangerous unless you get too much of a certain type. Although it is very difficult to overdose on vitamins from the foods you eat, it is not so difficult to do if you take supplements. This is especially true for fat soluble vitamins. If too many vitamins are taken they cease to act like a vitamin and instead start acting like a drug.

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