IU, MG, and MCG on Vitamin Labels: A Helpful FAQ

A Vitamin Label

Vitamins are an important part of modern nutrition, especially considering how easy it is for our bodies to experience deficiencies born from poor diet. Some vitamins are more important than others, depending on your physical condition, but most people have to take one in their later years. Depending on the vitamin you are deficient in, you might suffer extremely unpleasant physical symptoms that impact your quality of life. 

While taking a vitamin daily might not be the most appealing situation to find yourself in, it might be essential to preserve your health. Some people need vitamins to protect hindered organs or restore essential nutrients that enable our bodies to protect themselves from illness or infection. As a result, it is common for people to automatically assume that all vitamins are inherently healthy and that nothing is on the label to concern them.

Unfortunately, blindly taking vitamins without considering the nutritional label can backfire if you are not careful. Fortunately, the nutritional labels are usually pretty extensive to ensure that nothing harmful is ingested in your efforts to improve your health. The problem is that it can be difficult to interpret the shorthand used on health supplements and medication. 

Most of the terminology is shortened due to the fairly long names attributed to medicinal terms and compounds. The labels on vitamins also employ traditional nutritional shorthand designed to simplify the labels enough for rapid reading. Nevertheless, certain terms remain confusing to the average consumer and might be something you need more information about.

What Does IU Mean?

The term "IU" might seem unfamiliar, but the meaning is deceptively complex since it masquerades as a broad-term measurement. "IU" stands for international unit and is primarily used in pharmacology concerning biological compounds. The simple answer is that an international unit refers to an internationally accepted amount of a particular substance. Specifically, the amount listed in international units is agreed upon by the medical and pharmacological industries across several countries worldwide. 

In several cases, the units used in certain products are decided by national measurements, owing somewhat to the different measurement systems employed outside the United States. Nevertheless, the international unit measurement system is specifically used to measure fat-soluble vitamins (i.e., vitamins A, D, and E), hormones, enzymes, and biologicals (i.e., vaccines). Several nations might agree upon international units, but many instances of the international unit measurement are considered arbitrary and unimportant to the consumer.

However, the international units of a vitamin do play a role in helping us outline our care and dosage of a particular product. International units reflect the vitamin's potency and provide insight into how effective a particular compound is for our health.

IU on a Vitamin Label

Keeping track of the international units in vitamins helps us, and nutritionists determine the proper healthy dose of a specific product. Without the international unit value, it can be difficult to determine whether the vitamin's compounds are too powerful to be consumed in large doses. That said, relying solely on a vitamin's international unit value will only help so much since you must consider the nature of the substance you supplement with. 

For example, taking too much vitamin D can have higher consequences than vitamin A. Most medical professionals advise that our daily vitamin D intake not exceed 4,000 IU to avoid toxicity. Conversely, the limit for vitamin A is 10,000 IU unless you are pregnant or lactating. International units help us compare what is in the vitamin to how much we can take within 24 hours.

Additionally, the international unit value allows us to compare the biological concentrations of one brand to another, helping us identify the most effective brand for our needs. In some cases, understanding international units gives us the power to get customized supplements designed to help us overcome our deficiencies. Some people have mild deficiencies, whereas others have severe ones requiring intensive corrective supplementation. Proper knowledge of international units makes it easier to customize the supplement without oversaturating it.

What Does MG Mean?

The term "mg" should seem familiar to you since it is a unit we use all the time to measure substances. As you might have guessed, "mg" is the abbreviation for milligram, one of the most common units of measurement in human society. Insofar as this measurement is concerned, milligrams are part of the "gram" family of units. The lowest magnitude of grams is the quectogram, while the largest is the quettagram. 

Milligrams are a fairly standard unit, but they are still remarkably small compared to a kilogram. Despite that, milligrams remain one of the most used measurements since few products require more than a few hundred milligrams to be effective. A single milligram equates to one millionth of a kilogram, yet it is still considered the most effective measurement tool for food or vitamins. 

While an international unit refers to the potency of a vitamin, milligrams provide a direct value to how much is present. Therefore, having a vitamin D supplement with an international unit value of 1,000 does not mean there are 1,000 milligrams of vitamin D in the supplement. There is no 1-to-1 conversion method for these 2 measurements.

MG on a Vitamin Label

Additionally, having 1,000 milligrams of vitamin D will have a completely different effect on your body than 1,000 milligrams of beta carotene. As a result, the same disclaimer concerning international units applies to milligrams. The milligram value does not affect the potency of a vitamin and only determines the exact amount of the substance present in a single serving of the supplement.

Therefore, you should not adopt the mindset that more milligrams equate to a more powerful supplement, as some might assume. Nevertheless, keeping track of the milligrams in your supplement is still important. Most supplements dose the servings according to the appropriate amount necessary for your body to absorb the effects.

Assuming the supplement was created with quality in mind, the milligrams in a single serving should be enough to provide the desired effect. That said, not every compound can be packed into a single capsule, so you should consider the serving size. Failing that, consider how many milligrams you are supposed to consume daily and do the math. For example, if each tablet contains 25 milligrams and you are supposed to consume 50 milligrams per serving, take 2. 

While this might seem like common sense, there are situations where measuring the appropriate dosage via milligrams alone can be difficult. Regardless, milligrams are an important unit of measurement for vitamins and can play a critical role in ensuring you get the proper amount. That said, milligrams are not the only unit of measurement you must consider when dosing a vitamin.

What Does MCG Mean?

Like milligrams, "mcg" is a unit of measurement that pertains to the amount of a substance within a product. In this case, "mcg" is an abbreviation for micrograms, which are smaller than milligrams. While a milligram accounts for one millionth of a kilogram, a microgram equates to one billionth of a kilogram, making it a remarkably small unit. 

Despite the drastic difference in size, micrograms are an equally important unit of measurement that accomplishes the same function as milligrams. You might not be familiar with micrograms because the term is not always abbreviated the same way. Sometimes, a product lists micrograms under the abbreviation "µg," meaning you might have encountered the measurement before without realizing it. The pharmaceutical and nutritional industries use "mcg" because the "µ" prefix is a technical term that might not be recognizable to the average consumer.

MCG on a Vitamin Label

Nevertheless, the main question surrounding micrograms is: What is the point of such a small measurement? You might assume you will never encounter micrograms on a label if the main substances are already measured in milligrams. However, it is entirely possible for a substance to be measured in micrograms since certain vitamins are best consumed in small doses. 

Many vitamins combine multiple nutrients to create multivitamins, while others require additional nutrients to stabilize the primary vitamin. The biggest offenders are vitamin B-12 and folate, which are safest and most effective when consumed in small concentrations. Recently, the United States government amended the regulations for vitamins and required the labels to use micrograms on applicable products consistently.

While it might not seem important, keeping track of the micrograms of certain compounds can be vital to ensuring your vitamin does not cause more problems than it solves. Otherwise, you might inadvertently consume too much of a certain compound, damaging your health. While overusing vitamin B-12 or folate in an isolated incident is unlikely to cause lasting damage, the effects can build up the more you overindulge. The microgram further reinforces the notion that small does not equate to unimportant.

Why It Matters

There is a notion among certain demographics that vitamins are inherently healthy and beneficial, making it impossible for them to cause harm. While it is true that several compounds benefit our health, it does not mean they can be consumed with impunity. Our bodies and metabolisms are more fragile than we realize, and upsetting the balance in any way can cause health issues. 

The phrase "overdose" is primarily associated with hard drugs and prescription medications, causing some to believe it is impossible to overdose on vitamins. While this is an understandable mindset, it is faulty since overdosing on vitamins is possible if you are not careful. The good news is that it is extremely difficult to overdose on water-soluble vitamins since they are not readily stored in tissue and are easily excreted from the body before a buildup can occur. Some of the safest vitamins include:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin B-1 (thiamine)
  • Vitamin B-2 (riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B-3 (niacin)
  • Vitamin B-5 (pantothenic acid)
  • Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine)
  • Vitamin B-7 (biotin)
  • Vitamin B-9 (folate)
  • Vitamin B-12 (cobalamin)

These vitamins are water-soluble and, therefore, unlikely to be stored in your tissue. Understand that "unlikely" does not mean impossible; some people might find their bodies storing these vitamins despite their nature. Furthermore, taking too much of any of these vitamins in a single sitting could drastically increase your chances of overdosing. That said, the vitamins with the highest risk factors for building up in your body include:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K

These vitamins are fat-soluble, so they tend to collect in tissue more easily and remain in your system for an extended period.

Various Bottles of Vitamins

The good news is that not all vitamins have the potential to cause an overdose. The bad news is that the ones that do can cause unpleasant symptoms or serious health complications. The main contenders for overdose are:

  • Vitamin C: Overdosing on vitamin C can cause gastrointestinal disturbances like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
  • Vitamin B-3: Overdosing on vitamin B-3 can elevate blood pressure, cause abdominal pain, impair your vision, and damage your liver.
  • Vitamin B-6: Overdosing on vitamin B-6 can cause severe neurological symptoms, skin lesions, photosensitivity, nausea, and heartburn.
  • Vitamin B-9: Overdosing on vitamin B-9 can impair mental function and adversely affect your immune system.
  • Vitamin A: Overdosing on vitamin A can cause nausea and increased intracranial pressure. In extreme cases, you could fall into a coma or die.
  • Vitamin D: Overdosing on vitamin D can cause extreme weight loss, appetite loss, and irregular heartbeat.
  • Vitamin E: Overdosing on vitamin E can interfere with blood clotting and cause a hemorrhagic stroke.

Ultimately, overindulging in vitamins can cause serious problems, making nutritional labels an essential resource.

Keep it All Natural!

Vitamins are essential to staying healthy, and most of them have additional benefits that improve our health and appearance. Moderation is essential, but we at Bella All Natural know that supplementing your vitamin intake can be critical. We offer several natural products, including a range of supplementary vitamins made from produce.

A Woman Taking a Vitamin

Our products are designed to offer the nutritional value of vitamins alongside other benefits derived from the plant used to make them. That said, each of our products has nutritional labels that are easy to read and will tell you exactly how many to take daily. We encourage you to visit our website and peruse our catalog directly. Regardless of your decision, remember to always keep it All Natural!

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