"We don't talk enough about vitamin toxicity," says TIME medical contributor Dr. Ian Smith. "And people don't know as much as they should about the potential for overdosing on supplements: It doesn't happen often, but the risk is there." And although most vitamin fanatics are accustomed to sifting through studies and so-called breakthrough announcements about various benefits and risks, the NAS study could still cause confusion among the health-conscious, because it bucks recent reports that antioxidants are great and that lots of antioxidants are even better. Even in light of the academy report, the bottom line, or RDA, remains the same: Hang onto your gelcaps, because nutritionists still recommend 75 to 110 milligrams of C each day and 15 milligrams of E. How you ingest that allowance is up to you: Chomp on a bunch of broccoli and eat a nice piece of liver or go ahead and take that (one) vitamin pill.
For folks who've been tossing back handfuls of vitamin supplements for years now, the latest news from the National Academy of Sciences may be hard to swallow. There is no need, according to the report released Tuesday, for most people to take major doses of antioxidants, or vitamins C and E we should stick to the Recommended Daily Allowance, because there is little or no evidence, after all, that large doses of antioxidants prevent chronic disease. Predictably, the academy recommends the natural intake of antioxidants; instead of gulping down a few pills, everyone should concentrate on eating the fruits and vegetables that contain the critical nutrients. The recommendations aren't based solely on the fact that the human body absorbs vitamins more readily from food than from pills; it's also that supplements carry the risk of overdosing. And there's convincing evidence, the study continues, that very high doses of C and E can cause serious health risks like gastrointestinal problems and hemorrhaging.