Debunking multivitamins

Photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash

Many people don’t eat enough of the right foods to get all the nutrients they need for their bodies. Some of these essential nutrients are vitamins. As a result, many people try multivitamins to supplement their vitamin intake and health.

Not all vitamins are the same

Vitamins affect health in numerous ways. Many diseases are associated with a lack of certain nutrients such as scurvy, beriberi, pellagra, rickets, blindness, and more.

Vitamins are needed for hundreds of functions and systems in the body. B vitamins help release energy from food, metabolize amino acids, and more. Vitamin C makes collagen. Vitamin A, D, and K are needed for the development of bones. Vitamin E helps the body store vitamin A and acts as an antioxidant.

However, multivitamins usually don’t use natural vitamins. You can get natural vitamins by consuming the foods that contain them such as fruits, vegetables, and others. Synthetic or isolated vitamins, which are often what’s used in supplements, aren’t as effective or safe as natural vitamins consumed through whole food.

Food contains many other nutrients that all work together to affect health in the ways they do; if you take one of these chemicals or compounds out of its natural environment, you get side effects. There’s just more to learn about the synergistic effect of all nutrients and how it works before we go playing Mother Nature.

Are multivitamins effective?

Hrefna Palsdottir, MS, discusses the scientific evidence behind multivitamins. For instance, many think multivitamins might reduce the risk of various diseases, but evidence is conflicting. Some studies show a correlation between multivitamins and lower risk of heart attacks, but other studies show no effects.

Same with cancer. Some studies show multivitamins had no effect on cancer risk, while others showed their use may actually increase risk. Other studies found that long term multivitamin use reduced risk, or was at least associated with reduced risk, of certain cancers. The list goes on and on. Evidence is generally mixed, some showing improvements and some observing no changes.

Multivitamins have potential dangers as well. Intaking too high an amount of certain vitamins can be toxic, vitamin A and D in particular. Unnatural or isolated beta-carotene is sometimes in supplements too, which has been shown to increase cancer risk. This may be true for many other nutrients/chemicals in multivitamins as well.

According to John Hopkins Medicine, half of all American adults take a multivitamin or other type of supplement regularly, but money would be better spent on nutrient-dense foods because multivitamins don’t reduce the risk for heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline, or early death. They recommend spending that money on produce, low-fat dairy, whole grain, and minimal meat with omega-3 fatty acids instead.

Good news is, not all supplements are created using synthetics from a laboratory, some are derived from real foods, but the best kind of supplements are real food. Eating a balanced diet of natural whole foods is more likely to benefit health.

Popular brands of whole food supplements include Athletic Greens, Balance of Nature, Texas Superfood, Field of Greens, SuperBeets, Amazing Grass, and more. Why not just buy the whole foods used in these? Sure, you can do that. I rather would, but sometimes people don’t have the time to eat or have the room to store all the food in these supplements. Supplements are meant to supplement your diet so their convenience and ease of use is appealing.

Because whole food supplements use whole foods that contain natural nutrients, they are just as effective as eating the food itself (at least they should be anyway). Be sure to read the labels and inspect the ingredients of such supplements. Some supplements claim to be whole food but aren’t.

However, if you do have the time to eat and store all the nutritious food you need to, then have at it. Eating a healthier, more balanced diet is always a good idea.

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