Vitamins, along with minerals, are essential substances that the body needs to function. They are usually part of a well-balanced diet.

  1. Vital substances that allow the body to function.
  2. A lack of any vitamin can lead to serious health conditions.
  3. Vitamin supplements can be used where required 

If you are concerned that you may have a vitamin deficiency, you can speak with one of our GMC-registered clinicians via our online video consultation service. You can book an appointment between 9.30am-4.30pm, Monday to Friday. 

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What are vitamins?

Small amounts of vitamins are important in helping the body to function properly and stay healthy. In most cases, people get all of the essential nutrients the body needs through following a varied and balanced diet, but some people may need to take additional vitamin supplements.

It should be noted that taking large amounts of vitamins can be detrimental to your health, particularly vitamins that are absorbed into the body’s fat cells, such as vitamin A, D, E and K. Water soluble vitamins can excrete excess amounts through urination, but “megadoses” may still have a negative effect on the body and should be avoided. Low amounts of vitamins can lead to serious health conditions.

What is vitamin A? 

Vitamin A helps the immune system to function effectively, through fending off infections and illnesses. It also helps vision in low light and keeps the skin on various parts of the body, such as the nose, healthy. 

What sources can you get vitamin A from?

Strong sources of vitamin A can be found in dairy products, oily fish and liver. Beta carotene is converted by the body into vitamin A, and can be found in leafy vegetables, carrots, peppers, sweet potatoes and certain fruits. 

Vitamin A is fat absorbed, which means the body stores it when intake is high. You should therefore be careful to manage your levels, particularly if you are taking vitamin supplements. For adults aged between 19-64, 0.7mg of vitamin A per day is sufficient for men and 0.6mg a day for women. The Government Dietary Recommendations detail the recommended levels for children and older adults. 

What complications can a lack of vitamin A cause?

A lack of vitamin A can lead to serious health conditions in the long term, including a low functioning immune system and problems with your sight. If it’s severe and left untreated, it may be fatal.

What is vitamin B?

Vitamin B is a group of vitamins, rather than one substance. There are eight in total: thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid, Vitamin B6, biotin (B7), folate and folic acid and vitamin B12. They help to break down the energy in food and support the nervous system. Some types of vitamin B may also help to form red blood cells (B6, B12 and folate and folic acid) and break down body fat (B7). 

What sources can you get vitamin B from?

Thiamin is found in peas, fruit, wholegrains and liver. Riboflavin is contained in dairy products and rice. Niacin can be easily obtained from meat, fish, dairy and wheat flour. Pantothenic acid and vitamin B6 are found in many foods, including meat, vegetables and fruit. Biotin (B7) is an active bacterium that is present in the gut, helping to break down fat. 

Folate and folic acid are found in small amounts in many green vegetables, peas and chickpeas. Good sources of vitamin B12 are meat, salmon, cod and wholegrains.

What is vitamin C? 

Vitamin C (or ascorbic acid) helps to keep cells in the body healthy. It also plays a major role in healing and keeping the skin, bones and blood vessels healthy. It can be obtained from a large variety of fruits and vegetables, including oranges, peppers and potatoes.

Although it is water soluble, and therefore excreted through urine when consumed in excess, it can lead to digestive issues and large doses should be avoided. Most adults can stay healthy on a daily intake of 40mg. 

What complications can a lack of vitamin C cause?

A major consequence of a lack of vitamin C is scurvy, which can lead to hair and teeth falling out, as well as extreme fatigue and blue spots on the shins.

What is vitamin D? 

Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium in the body, helping to protect bones, teeth and muscles. Most vitamin D can be acquired through exposure to the sun during the spring and summer months, but in winter, many people in cooler climates may become deficient. 

What sources can you get vitamin D from?

Strong sources of vitamin D include oily fish, red meat, liver, eggs and fortified foods, but you may need to take an additional supplement. A daily intake of 10 micrograms should be enough vitamin D to keep the body functioning properly. 

What complications can taking too much or too little vitamin D cause?

Taking too much vitamin D over a prolonged period of time can damage the heart, bones and kidneys. Low levels of vitamin D have been known to cause fatigue, depression, recurring infections, thinning bones and hair loss.

What is vitamin E?

Vitamin E is needed to maintain healthy skin and helps to protect the eyes. It is also a key part of the body’s immune system. Good sources of vitamin E are nuts, seeds, plant oils and wheatgerm. Men require around 4mg per day, while women require 3mg, which should be achievable though maintaining a healthy diet. 

What complications can too much or too little vitamin E cause?

It’s unclear what effects too much vitamin E has on the body, but as it is stored in fat cells, caution should be applied. Deficiencies in vitamin E are rare in developed countries (exempting people who have certain health conditions), but too little can lead to nerve damage, muscle weakness and vision problems.

What is vitamin K?

Vitamin K is required for blood clotting, and so helps wounds to heal fully. It is thought it may also play a role in maintaining bone health.

What sources can you get vitamin K from?

It can be mostly found in green, leafy vegetables, cereals and vegetable oils. A rough guide to the amount of vitamin K needed is one microgram per kilogram of your weight. So, for example, if you weigh 70kg, you will need 70 micrograms of vitamin K daily. A healthy and balanced diet should be able to provide you with enough vitamin K without the need for supplementation. 

What complications can too much or too little vitamin K cause?

Like vitamin E, there is not enough evidence to indicate what the adverse effects of too much vitamin K are, but you should be mindful of recommended levels, particularly if you are taking supplements. A deficiency of vitamin K is rare, but when it does occur it can lead to easy bruising, blood in the faeces and urine, heavy menstrual bleeding and difficulties with the body’s healing process.

If you would like to discuss vitamins or any related conditions with a registered clinician, our online video consultation service is available from 9.30am-4.30pm, five days a week. Our clinicians can also issue referrals to specialists for treatment and fit notes, where appropriate.  

Page last reviewed:  04/08/2020
Side effects and warnings

What side effects and contraindications can vitamins cause? 

Vitamins can produce adverse effects. If you are uncertain as to whether you need to take supplements, you should have a discussion with your doctor before using any. Your clinician can refer you to a specialist, where required. 

If you have certain health conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, vitamins may not be absorbed properly. It’s therefore particularly important to keep an eye on any of the symptoms described above if you have a health condition. In most cases however, people should be able to absorb vitamins well, especially as a consequence of a balanced diet. 

Are vitamins safe to take if you are pregnant?

Consuming certain vitamins is particularly important when you are pregnant, while excessive amounts of other vitamins can heighten certain risks. For example, folic acid is known to help prevent birth defects from occurring, and supplements should be taken as soon as you are aware that you are pregnant. Ensuring that you are getting sufficient vitamin D can help the body to process folic acid.  

Vitamin A, however, can be harmful to your baby when taken in high dosages. For this reason, it is recommended that you avoid eating liver or taking multivitamins that contain vitamin A. Vitamin A, like all vitamins, is important while breastfeeding, however, and you should make sure that you are following a balanced and healthy diet at this time.

Page last reviewed:  04/08/2020
Questions and Answers

Is it safe to drink alcohol whilst taking vitamins? 

Provided that they are used in moderation (or as recommended), vitamins and alcohol should not typically cause issues when used alongside each other.

However, alcohol can prevent the body from absorbing vitamins, particularly B-vitamins, and can also lead to the loss of many other nutrients in the body. If you are unsure, consult your doctor for advice.  

Can vitamins cause any allergic responses?

Allergic responses to vitamins are possible, particularly to supplements. It should be noted however that allergic reactions to vitamins are extremely rare. 

Can I buy vitamins over the counter? 

Vitamins are available to buy over the counter from pharmacies, health food stores, supermarkets and some convenience stores. Some vitamins, such as B12, may need to be injected; this requires an appointment with a nurse. Some treatments for insufficient levels of vitamins in the body require a prescription. 

Can I buy vitamins online? 

You can discuss vitamins and any related conditions with one of our GPhC-registered clinicians using our online video consultation service. Our clinicians are available for appointments between 9.30am-4.30pm, Monday to Friday. They can also provide referrals to specialists for treatment and fit notes, where suitable. 

Page last reviewed:  04/08/2020

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