Google “vitamins” and you get 50 million results and the wildest claims you can imagine. That’s almost six times more than what you get for “Brad Pitt,” but the descriptions are just as breathless. As you navigate the maze of sites, you see phrases claiming vitamin supplements can “increase energy,” “stimulate brain function” and “improve sex drive.” There are promises of “reversing cancer” and “removing plaque” from your arteries. It all helps explain why Americans shell out $7.5 billion a year on vitamins, hoping to prolong life, slow aging and protect against a bevy of illnesses. For people who have trouble getting enough micronutrients in a day, taking vitamins will provide the necessary vitamins and minerals that are not consumed, according to the Mayo Clinic.
On the face of it, this seems like good news for the vitamin industry and has probably already boosted sales. But, we really need to examine these findings within the larger context of what research has indicated about vitamin supplementation in recent years. A 2008 study of 15,000 participants showed that taking the vitamins E and C had no effect on cancer rates. Another study of 35,000 men, conducted just a few months before that one, showed that taking vitamin E and selenium had no impact on cancer rates, and the researchers actually stopped the study early because there appeared to be a slight increase in cancer and diabetes among study participants.
A year prior to that, in a study also published in JAMA, researchers concluded that taking vitamin B12 supplements are not effective in preventing strokes, heart attacks or death in people with a history of vascular disease. In this case, the study was a review that covered 12 studies with 16,598 participants who had pre-existing illness. Vitamin D from a multivitamin or single supplement can lower the risk of colon and possibly many other cancers, as well as other chronic diseases. Of course, there can be too much of a good thing. It’s important not to go overboard with vitamins. While a multivitamin and a vitamin D supplement can help fill some of the gaps in a less than optimal diet, too much can be harmful..
Multivitamins are a good way to help supplement a diet for those who don’t always have time to shop for fresh vegetables, fruit and whole grains. But most health experts agree that a multivitamin is no replacement for a good, well-balanced diet. In fact, if you do eat a well-balanced diet, you not only have no need for a multivitamin, but you actually could be getting too much of a good thing — especially when you consider that many foods are already fortified with vitamins and minerals. Supplementing the areas where your diet falls short with specific vitamins may be a better plan if you’re a relatively healthy eater.
Bottom line, we understand the majority of people to be best off without any vitamin supplements. Just because they are non-prescription and still live inside a “health halo,” vitamins are not harmless. They could shorten or extend your life; at this point, taking vitamins randomly is metabolic roulette. So, not to sound like the end of a pill commercial, talk to your doctor about vitamins — just like you would about prescription medications — before waving any sort of pro or anti-vitamin flag. Not everyone needs the same things, and more doesn’t mean better.
Every American needs a good quality multivitamin, vitamin D and omega-3 fat supplement. It is part of getting a metabolic tune up. Each vitamin has specific jobs. If you have low levels of certain vitamins, you may develop a deficiency disease. The best way to get enough vitamins is to eat a balanced diet with a variety of foods. In some cases, you may need to take a daily multivitamin for optimal health. However, high doses of some vitamins can make you sick.The best policy is to do your homework before taking a vitamin or supplement and don’t start taking one just because it seems like the healthy thing to do.