The Ugly Truth About Multivitamins

One-third of Americans take some variety of a vitamin supplement or multivitamin daily, with seventy percent of this amount comprised of individuals aged sixty-five and older. There are two conflicting views when it comes to consuming a daily vitamin. One side of the story believes vitamin supplements can reduce a patient's risk for diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer's and can fill the gaps in nutrition a majority of individuals lack. The other side of the argument criticizes vitamin supplements and claims they are mostly a ‘placebo effect,' that does not contribute any nutritional value to the body. The big question remains: are vitamin supplements truly worth it and how do they affect the body?

What Is A Vitamin Supplement?

The term vitamin or multivitamin refers to the chemical compounds with the word ‘vitamin' in front, such as Vitamin A, B12, C, D, but also other elements such as calcium, potassium, and iron, as well as a multivitamin, which is comprised of multiple nutrients the body needs. There is no denying that prolonged deficiency of specific vitamins and minerals can lead to illness and disease; however, the real question is whether healthy individuals truly need to take vitamin supplements. If the patient eats a diet comprised of fruits, vegetables, dairy, and whole grains, there is an excellent chance they already reach their suggested daily intake of certain vitamins.

Even if the patient does not have a balanced diet of healthy foods, many processed foods today are fortified with numerous vitamins and minerals as well. If the patient is taking vitamin supplements in addition to eating a balanced diet, they may be achieving vitamin levels extraordinarily higher than what the Federal Drug Administration and National Institutes of Health recommend.

The Great Debate: The Good

Multivitamin enthusiasts and experts alike proclaim they are a wonder drug able to assist an individual with everything from weight loss, decreasing the risk of certain cancers and memory loss, as well as extending the individual's life. Some researchers and experts believe when the body is severely nutrient deprived and out of balance, vitamin supplementation can play a significant role in restoring wellness, especially when the supplementation is planned carefully and under medical supervision. In the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans noted fiber, potassium, Vitamin D, and calcium were the specific nutrients carrying a high risk for deficiency amongst the U.S. population, and some would argue vitamin supplements can help decrease this risk.

The Great Debate: The Bad

Health professionals and individuals who oppose the supposed benefits of vitamins argue there are potential risks associated with taking a daily dose of vitamin supplements, such as it has a placebo effect. This results in patients not receiving the full nutritional value they believe they are getting and patients are essentially paying for ‘expensive pee.' The extreme side of the debate is that experts warn about the potential dangers of toxicity or essentially overdosing on vitamins, which can cause the body to go into a state of shock. Many who believe vitamin supplements do not work will also argue a pill cannot mimic the natural composite of food and will not be able to provide a healthy amount of the vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients found in food.

The Bright Side Of Taking Multivitamins

A multivitamin or a singular dosage of a vitamin is a supplement intended to supply the body with its most essential vitamins and minerals it may be lacking, which can help sustain physical and mental health, and help the body perform its daily activities. Vitamins are loaded with coenzymes, which facilitates the metabolic processes involved in protecting DNA, repairing cellular damage, and providing the body with energy, which can come in a convenient little capsule. As the term supplement suggests, the intention of multivitamins and single doses of specific vitamins are meant to supplement the nutritional gaps in a patient's diet, rather than replace the important role that food plays in providing the body with nutrition.

Some research shows vitamin supplements can benefit the body by providing more energy, clearer skin, anti-aging, enhanced memory, improved cognitive abilities, lower risk of nutritional deficiencies, maintaining muscle strength, stronger bones, less stress, and increased sexual function. Multivitamins are also believed to help reduce the risk of cancer, dementia and Alzheimer's and reduce the effects of aging, such as preventing wrinkles and memory loss.

The Dark Side Of Vitamin Supplements

Why do so many Americans take some form of a multivitamin or vitamin supplement daily then? Experts argue this is due to the branding of many of these vitamins by major corporations, as the vitamin industry earns twelve billion dollars annually! Other researchers have also discovered there are conflicting findings on what multivitamins can truly do for the body, as they found they do not protect against chronic disease and cancer, memory loss, or aging. On the extreme side, as mentioned before, some experts claim some multivitamins, due to the large doses of vitamins and minerals found in each pill may cause toxicity when taken in high doses. However, there is still no concrete proof this can occur.

What The Studies Discovered

With three relevant studies released in December 2017 in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, the research showed a daily multivitamin would not help boost the average American's health, and the researchers behind the studies are urging individuals to stop taking the supplements. The studies found a daily multivitamin will not reduce the risk of a patient developing a heart problem or memory loss, and cannot guarantee a longer lifespan or even improved health overall. Essentially, multivitamins and mineral supplements did not perform any better than placebo pills. Dr. Eliseo Guallar, a professor of epidemiology at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who was part of the study, stated that through the research, it was clear vitamins (supplements) are not working as expected. He also mentioned it is not clear if taking these supplements actually fill in any nutritional gaps or boost overall health.

The First Study

The first study conducted had researchers randomly assign almost 6,000 male doctors over the age of sixty-five to take a daily multivitamin or a look-alike placebo pill. Researchers followed up every few years over the course of twelve years to test the health of these men, with approximately eighty-four percent taking their pills regularly. After the twelve years and multiple tests were completed, researchers discovered there was no difference in memory problems between the two groups taking the multivitamins or placebo pills. However, the same study found multivitamins might modestly reduce the risk of cancer by eight percent, and cataracts by nine percent, however, there was no improvement in brain health or function.

The Second Study

The other study conducted, a research review, analyzed the evidence from twenty-seven studies on vitamin and mineral supplements that included over 450,000 individuals. That study was conducted for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which found no evidence that supplements offer any benefit for heart disease or that they reduce the risk of fatalities from the disease. As with the first study, researchers discovered there was a minimal benefit for reducing cancer. Overall, the research conducted between these studies can conclude multivitamins do not benefit brain and heart health by reducing the risks stated on the bottle, though they do slightly reduce the risk of developing other diseases, such as cancer and cataracts. Rather than taking vitamin supplements, patients are recommended to start introducing more fresh vegetables and fruits, fiber and calcium into their diet if they feel their diet is lacking in these significant nutrients. To learn more, check out the article Healthy And Delicious Meals In Under Twenty Minutes for healthy recipes!

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    Danielle L'Ecuyer