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Vitamin Drinks Potentially Harmful Experts Say

Feb 2, 2015

As the demand for vitamin drinks increases, some are concerned that the beverages are potentially harmful. According to a New York Times Well blog, some nutrition experts are worried that consuming these drinks will cause people to ingest unnecessarily high levels of vitamins and other nutrients, even though the amounts added are usually small.

Mridul Datta, an assistant professor in the department of nutrition science at Purdue University said "You have vitamins and minerals that occur naturally in foods, and then you have people taking supplements, and then you have all these fortified foods," according to NYT. "It adds up to quite an excess. There’s the potential for people to get a lot more of these vitamins than they need."

According to the NYT Well blog, research suggests that the average American is exposed to abnormally high levels of vitamins and minerals. More than 50 percent of adults in the US take a vitamin or dietary supplement. Additionally, certain foods are already fortified with extra nutrients. This stems from the federal food fortification program, which started in the early 1900s to address urgent and well-known nutrient deficiencies. For instance, research showed that women of child-bearing age were lacking folic acid; the program added folic acid to bread and cereal because those items were staples of their diets. The rate of neural tube defects has decreased substantially ever since.

"The reason behind the fortification program was to bring our nutrient intake to a reasonable place, and it targeted nutrients that we were lacking," said Mara Z. Vitolins, a registered dietitian and professor of epidemiology and prevention at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, according to NYT Well.

Now, there may be a problem with excess nutrients. According to a study published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition in July 2014, many people are surpassing the limits imposed by the Institute of Medicine. According to NYT Well, experts are especially worried about drinks touted for their high antioxidant levels such as Vitaminwater, POM Wonderful and Naked Juice. Antioxidants are important for neutralizing free radicals that can damage cells and their genetic material, but having too much can cause an imbalance in the system.

Water-soluble vitamins such as vitamins B and C are excreted in the urine when consumed in excess. This is not the case, however, with fat-soluble vitamins such vitamins A, D, E and K; these build up in the tissues and can pose health risks. "These fat soluble vitamins are very stable," Dr. Vitolins said. "They’re not released in the urine. If you are over-consuming them, you can raise your levels gradually over time and get into trouble with liver function. You have to be very careful with them."

Another study, published this month in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, found that many beverages sold in supermarkets alongside water contained nutrient levels that were "well in excess" of the average daily requirements in young adults. Researchers looked at 46 drinks both with and without sugar, and found particularly high levels of vitamins B6, B12, niacin and vitamin C. The amount of B6 was more than triple the daily value in 18 drinks, while 11 drinks had more than triple the requirement for B12. The amount of niacin or riboflavin was more than triple the requirement in half a dozen drinks.

Valerie Tarasuk, a nutrition science professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto and lead author of the study, said that the most commonly added vitamins are already abundant in the average person's diet; adding more is simply excessive. "It’s very hard to figure out the logic the manufacturers are using to do this fortification," she said, according to NYT Well. "There’s no way that the things that are being added are things that anybody needs or stands to benefit from."

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