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Preventive Maintenance: Supplementing Your Health

Most health professionals say that you should be able to get all the nutrition you need from the foods you eat by making wise choices. But, if you're in one of the following stages of life you need a ...

Most health professionals say that you should be able to get all the nutrition you need from the foods you eat by making wise choices. But, if you’re in one of the following stages of life you need a higher concentration of nutrients: infants (hope none of you are driving), women of childbearing age and pregnant women. You may also consider taking vitamins if you’ve been diagnosed with nutrient deficiencies, eat fewer than 1,200 calories/day, are vegan (only eat plants), get too little calcium to keep your bones strong, or have a disease, infection, or injury that affects how your body uses its food.

Another consideration is food and drug interactions. Some prescription drugs affect how your body uses food. Some stop your body from absorbing much of the nutrition in the foods you do eat. (If you’re taking Tetracycline for an infection, don’t eat cheese, or drink milk when you take your pill. If you do, your body won’t absorb the magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc in that meal.)

Other medications make you absorb more. Either situation can get your body out of whack. There are foods, too, that affect the absorption of your medication. (Drinking grapefruit juice when you take some pills can increase their potency – leading to a possible overdose.) To become aware of these food/drug interactions, read the label on your pill bottle and/or, ask your pharmacist. Be safe.

What about overdosing? Can you overdose on vitamins? Yes. They can become toxic if you take too much – especially the vitamins your body stores in your fat (fat-soluble). Water-soluble vitamins are easier for your body to get rid of.

The water-soluble vitamins are vitamin C and the B vitamins (Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Biotin, Pantothenic Acid, B6, Folate and B12). They get absorbed directly into your blood, and circulate in all the water-filled areas of your body. If your B or C vitamin levels get a little high, your kidneys filter them out. Then, you can get rid of them in a few seconds at the nearest truck stop. But, since your body doesn’t store the water-soluble vitamins, you must get enough of them from your food every day. Because of your crazy eating schedule, you may need a little more than what you’re getting.

If you do decide to take a vitamin, read the label. It tells you how many tablets/capsules to take (per serving). And also what percentage of the recommended daily requirement of each nutrient is found in that serving.

Let’s take a look at Vitamin B6 supplements. Health Canada states we need from 1.6 to 100 milligrams/day. However, I’ve seen supplements that contain as much Vitamin B6 as you would find in 3,000 bananas, 6,600 cups of rice, or 3,600 chicken breasts. No one needs that much! Taking this large amount puts a strain on your kidneys, filtering the extra out. Fortunately, since water-soluble vitamins are easily excreted, toxicity is not a common problem.

However, the fat-soluble vitamins -Vitamins A, D, E and K – are stored in your fat. This makes them more difficult for your body to get rid of any excess. Fat doesn’t break down easily. (Anyone who’s ever tried to lose weight knows all about it.) And so, too much Vitamin A, D, E, or K can accumulate to toxic levels over time.

There are many things to consider before taking a vitamin supplement.

Will it be good for you? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on your body, your level of health and any medical condition you may already have. Do you need it? Consider your eating habits and whether you are getting a variety of nutritious foods consistently, every day.

Then decide. If you choose to supplement your diet, read the labels. When it comes to supplements, you can have too much of a good thing. (And it’s always good to ask your doctor first.)

– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant. She can be reached by e-mail at

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