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Vitamins and Minerals: How Much Should You Take?

In this Article

In this Article

In this Article

You stroll down the pharmacy isles on what seems like a simple mission: pick up some vitamins But a quick glance at a bottle's label can send you running for a dictionary Things like "RDA" or "DV" are just a few examples of an alphabet soup that's on many packages But don't despair We'll help you demystify supplement guidelines

What the Numbers Mean

Many of the terms you see on labels or supplement web sites can help you understand how much of the vitamin or mineral you should take For example, here are some guidelines set up by the Institute of Medicine:

The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) and the AI (Adequate Intake) are the amounts of a vitamin or mineral you need to keep healthy and stay well-nourished They're tailored to women, men, and specific age groups

The UL (Tolerable Upper Intake Level) is the maximum amount of daily vitamins and minerals that you can safely take without risk of an overdose or serious side effects For certain nutrients, the higher you go above the UL, the greater the chance you'll have problems

Separate from the RDA and the UL, the Food and Drug Administration uses a different measure for the nutrients you need:

The DV (Daily Value) is the only measurement you'll find on food and supplement labels That's because space is limited, and there's a need for one single reference number That number is the amount of a vitamin or nutrient that you should get for top health from a diet of 2,000 calories a day The DV is sometimes the same as the RDA

Although the details may be different, remember that the RDA and DV are both set up to help you get the nutrients you need to prevent disease and avoid problems caused by lack of nutrition

How Much Is Too Much?

Because high doses of some supplements can have risks, how do you know when it's OK to take more than the RDA or DV?

One way is to look for the UL (tolerable upper intake level) of a nutrient With many vitamins and minerals, you can safely take a dose much higher than the RDA or DV without coming close to the UL

For instance, the average person can take more than 50 times the RDA of vitamin B6 without reaching the upper limit But some people develop symptoms of nerve pain with these higher levels of B6 So you should always be cautious Here are some things to keep in mind:

Some supplements are riskier than others With some vitamins and minerals, the upper limit is pretty close to the RDA So it's easy to get too much For example, a man who takes just over three times the RDA of vitamin A would get more than the upper limit High doses of vitamin A -- and other fat-soluble vitamins like E and K -- can build up in the body and become toxic Other risky supplements include the minerals iron and selenium

Supplements are designed to be additions to your diet Popping pills is not the answer to good health Experts say you should eat a well-balanced diet and take supplements to fill in any nutritional gaps Or you can take a once-daily multivitamin with minerals for nutritional insurance

The UL is often the limit for all sources of a nutrient It can include the amount you get from both food and supplements So when you figure out whether you've reached the UL on a particular nutrient, take into account the food you eat

You won't find the UL on food nutrition labels or on your vitamin bottle It's not a number that most people know about But you'll see it on government web sites And there's a complete list of nutrients with ULs at the end of this article

Most supplements don't have a UL -- or RDA or DV The government has only set levels for a fraction of the vitamins and supplements available For most of the supplements you see on the shelves, experts really don't know the ideal or maximum dose

Many nutrients, in too high a dose, can be dangerous To be on the safe side, steer clear of the UL for any nutrient And if you have a health condition, check with your doctor before you take supplements He can tell you if they have side effects or interfere with other medicines you use

Table: RDAs and ULs for Vitamins and Minerals

The Institute of Medicine has determined upper limits for 24 nutrients This table is for adults ages 19 or older It doesn't apply to women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, because they have different nutritional requirements

Nutrients with AIs are marked with an (*)

The highest amount you can take without risk

  • Age 1-3: 700 mg/day
  • Age 4-8: 1,000 mg/day
  • Age 9-18: 1,300 mg/day
  • Age 19-50: 1,000 mg/day
  • Women age 51+: 1,200 mg/day
  • Men age 71+: 1,200 mg/day
  • Age19-50: 2,500 mg/day
  • Age 51 and up:2,000 mg/day
  • Age 19-50: 2,300 mg/day
  • Age 50-70: 2,000 mg/day
  • Age 70 and older: 1,800 mg/day
  • Age 70 and older: 1,800 mg/day
  • Women: 425 mg/day *
  • Men: 4 mg/day *
  • Women: 3 mg/day *
  • Men: 8 mg/day
  • Women age 19-50: 18 mg/day
  • Women age 51 and up: 8 mg/day
  • Men age 19-30: 400 mg/day
  • Men age 31 and up: 420 mg/day
  • Women age 19-30: 310 mg/day
  • Women age 31 and up: 320 mg/day
  • Men: 23 mg/day *
  • Women: 18 mg/day*
  • Age 19-50: 1,500 mg/day
  • Age 51-70: 1,300 mg/day
  • Age 71 and up: 1,200 mg/day
  • Men: 3,000 IU/day
  • Women: 2,310 IU/day
  • Men: 16 mg/day
  • Women: 14 mg/day

This applies only to niacin in supplements or fortified foods There is no upper limit for niacin in natural sources

  • Men age 19-50: 13 mg/day
  • Men age 51 up:17 mg/day
  • Women age 19-50: 13 mg/day
  • Women age 51 up: 15 mg/day
  • Men: 90 mg/day
  • Women: 75 mg/day
  • Age 1-70: 15 micrograms/day

(600 IU, or international units) *

  • Age 70 and older: 20 micrograms/day

    • Men: 11 mg/day
    • Women: 8 mg/day

    Institute of Medicine (IOM): "Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D"

    Paul M Coates, PhD, director, Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD

    FamilyDoctorWhat type of multivitamin should I take if I have diabetesMore About this BookThe Best Life Guide to Managing Diabetes and PreDiabetesContinue Learning about VitaminsIn the United States, the Food and Drug Administration FDA regulates vitamin supplements and provides recommended daily amount information.org: "Vitamins and Minerals: What You Should Know"

    International Food Information Council: "Dietary Reference Intakes: An Update"

    National Osteoporosis Foundation: "NOF Scientific Statement: National Osteoporosis Foundation's Updated Recommendations for Calcium and Vitamin D3 Intake"

    Office of Dietary Supplements: "Dietary Reference Intakes"

    Paul R Thomas, EdD, RD, scientific consultant, Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD

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