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There are two main ways to use vitamins and mineral supplements: "megadose" and nutritional therapy.
The megadose approach involves taking supplements at doses far above nutritional needs in hopes of producing a specific medical benefit. This technique essentially uses nutrients as natural drugs. The individual supplement articles in this encyclopedia explain what is known about the potential risks and benefits of megadose therapy.
This article addresses the second approach: taking nutrients at the level of nutritional needs. We discuss general issues regarding such "nutritional insurance" and indicate which nutrients you should consider taking on a daily basis.
Under certain conditions, the need for many nutrients may increase. These include illnesses such as diabetes , Crohn's disease , HIV , and ulcerative colitis . Furthermore, individuals who smoke cigarettes or overuse alcohol may need additional nutrients. Follow the links to the individual articles for more information.
Medications may increase the need for certain nutrients; if you look up your own medications in the Drug Interaction section of this encyclopedia, you will find what is known about these so-called nutrient depletions.
Standard multivitamin/multimineral tablets contain nutrients at levels believed to be safe for the majority of healthy people, as indicated by amounts at or below the recommended daily allowance. However, even these supplements could be harmful for people with certain diseases, such as kidney or liver disease, or for people taking certain medications, such as warfarin .
There are other multivitamin/multimineral tablets that contain high levels of certain nutrients far above nutritional needs. These could conceivably present risks for healthy people, particularly if they are taken in combination with additional specific supplements. Almost any mineral can be toxic if taken to excess, and there are also risks with excessive intake of vitamins A, B 6 , and D.