Do multivitamins really improve your health?

Posted on 20 August 2018

There’s overwhelming evidence to suggest that multivitamins that are not prescribed to treat specific deficiencies don’t really do much good and, in some instances, can actually cause you harm.

Many multi-vitamin supplements may have little to no impact on your daily health, and generally you are better off getting these vitamins into your system through a healthy, balanced diet, says clinical dietician Gayle Landau. That is, of course, unless you’ve been diagnosed with a vitamin deficiency or disease that requires you to take a certain supplement.

“Pills are not a shortcut to better health and the prevention of chronic diseases,” says Dr Larry Appel, director of the Johns Hopkins Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research, echoing Landau’s sentiments in an article on the Johns Hopkins Medical School website.

Water-soluble vitamins

A supplement containing vitamins from the B-complex group, which are water soluble and simply pass through the system in your urine, is mostly harmless, Landau explains, but it is recommended you stick to the trusted brands if you must use them. “Every other week there’s a new supplement on the market,” she warns.

Food for thought

In reviewing three broad studies on supplements, Johns Hopkins researchers found no evidence that multivitamins reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, or mental declines in people. In fact, the participants would have been better off spending their money on nutritious foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products, they state in an article titled “Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements”. This study was done in the US, where half of all adults take a multivitamin, vitamin, or other supplements regularly.

“How food and its component molecules affect the body is largely a mystery,” says Dr Howard LeWine in an article published on the Harvard Medical School website. “That makes the use of supplements for anything other than treating a deficiency questionable,” he says.

B12 injections

Concerning B12 injections, Landau explains that if you are relatively healthy with no deficiencies there’s likely no need for this injection. However, in some cases, as with strict vegans, who may have certain deficiencies due to their purely plant-based diet, a B12 injection can be recommended by a medical professional. Patients who have had surgery to their stomach or bowels may also be at risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency, Landau says.

Vitamin toxicity

There are dangers to taking certain vitamin supplements without guidance, she warns, specifically the vitamins that are fat soluble: A, D, E, and K. These vitamins don’t pass through the body as easily, and in severe cases the levels of, say, vitamin D, can be so high in your body it can become toxic, this is known as hypervitaminosis D. It’s important to note that it’s almost impossible to overdose on vitamin D through sunlight or food, alone. Don’t take over-the-counter supplements of fat-soluble vitamins, warns Landau. There are times that these vitamins are indicated, but only at the advice of a medical professional.

Omega 3

Even with Omega 3 supplements, you don’t really know what you’re putting into your body, as what’s on the bottle is often not what’s in the pill or powder. “You’re better off including these fats in your diet,” she says.

Foods rich in Omega 3

  • Two to three servings per week of fatty fish, including herring, salmon, trout, pilchards
  • Vegetarian options include flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, soybeans

Published in Healthy Life

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