Most of us don’t get all of the nutrients we need from food alone. So we take supplements, buy fortified foods and drinks, and stock up on as many vitamins as we can. Why not? Vitamins are a good thing, right? That’s why we fortify our breads and dairy with them; that’s why we take a multivitamin pill every morning; that’s why we take Emergen-C and Airborne when we’re getting a cold. Can it really hurt to add vitamin drinks into the mix? Yes, because believe it or not, you can have too much of a good thing.
Over time, overconsumption of vitamins can actually harm the body. That’s right, vitamins need to be taken in moderation, just like everything else. They are not a magic cure-all. While an excess of water-soluble vitamins like C and B can be excreted through the urine, other vitamins — like fat-soluble A and K — stick around and tend to accumulate in the body. An excess of these vitamins can slowly tax the liver and lead to health problems down the road — the very things most people take vitamins to prevent.
With an increasing cult of companies frivolously adding vitamins to their beverages to boost sales, scientists are concerned that this may lead people to unintentionally ingest vitamins in potentially harmful quantities. A 2014 study shows that, due to a recent increase in fortification and supplementation alongside a standard diet, a significant amount of people are surpassing the safe intake limits established by the Institute of Medicine.
While there are sound, scientifically-based reasons for the specific fortification of wheat flour and dairy, there is no functional limit in place to impede companies from adding large amounts of unnecessary vitamins to their products to boost sales. This can lead to unintentional vitamin overload if you’re not careful. For instance, if you are eating a serving of fortified white bread and drinking a vitamin-enhanced drink, you have already greatly surpassed the recommended daily allowance for a handful of nutrients without consuming anything of real nutritional value. In fact, a bottle of “Formula 50” Vitamin Water has over 100% of the recommended daily values of niacin, C, B6, B12, and pantothenic acid. Without the natural failsafes of fiber, protein, and fat to slow down absorption, one could easily ingest too much of these vitamins simply by drinking a single serving of this beverage without eating anything at all. This type of gluttonous vitamin consumption is just not smart — or healthy.
While vitamins are hugely beneficial in moderate amounts, there is a limit to their benefits. A 2009 study published in JAMA showed that heart disease patients treated with B vitamins as opposed to a placebo over 7 years actually showed higher mortality and cancer rates. A 2012 study showed that high vitamin A, beta-carotene, and vitamin E supplementation actually increased mortality rates among its 300,000 participants. While neither of these studies are conclusive, they do show a trend between overconsumption of certain vitamins and its detrimental effect on health. It is far smarter to supplement your diet with natural, vitamin-rich foods instead of relying on pills and vitamin drinks.
Suffice to say, the ‘more is always better’ mentality is not always the way to go and can become downright harmful. Moderation is key. Enjoy natural foods in a wide variety of types and colors, and add in a high quality multivitamin if you’re concerned. While additional vitamins may be a good idea for some, vitamin drinks offer a narrow spectrum of vitamins in excessive amounts without any other nutritional value — plus the downside of added colors, flavors, and excess sugars. Vitamin-enhanced beverages are not a health drink — they’re a gimmick. You’re better off without them.