Multivitamins: Helpful, harmful, or harmless?

Some call it nature, others believe there is an almighty creator of us all. Either way, was it the intention that so many of us would rely on pills to maintain a healthy vitamin and mineral balance?

Now I’m not about to start a discussion on ‘Science vs. Religion’, but you get the point. Is our vastly diverse planet that lacking in essential vitamins that we have to look to isolated concentrated nutrients?

Here in the UK we actually take far less supplements than our trans-Atlantic cousins, but that’s slowly changing. The market for supplementation is growing – approaching the £1 billion mark. We still have some way to go to match the USA though, where 1-in-3 adults are taking some sort of multivitamin.

If you take a number of vitamin supplements, you may think that it would be a lot easier to just take one multivitamin. Think about it this way – if you take a tablet for Vitamin A, D and E as well as Omega 3 and Folic acid, then a tablet that could contain all of those things would be enormous – far too large to swallow.

If these tablets have little effect though, there isn’t much point in taking them – you’re just wasting your money. On the other hand, if they actually appear to be harmful to your body, then they should definitely be avoided. What if they’re as good as we all think though? No one wants to be left behind as the rest of the world tends towards a perfectly healthy body.

What you need to remember is that multivitamins don’t provide an ideal amount of each vitamin. Even when it’s plastered with ‘100% R.D.A’ – that just means that you are getting the minimum amount you can have without being vitamin/mineral deficient.

Let’s consider those 3 words again – helpful, harmful and harmless.

Essentially we are asking do multivitamins improve our health, detract from it, or do they just not have an impact?

Fortunately, due to their popularity, this has been extensively researched. The first thing you need to establish is to make sure you aren’t taking something that is detrimental to your health. Fears relating to an increased susceptibility to cancer and a greater risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) have arisen.

A 10 year study conducted by Harvard University, the most extensive of its type, disproved theories that using a multivitamin increases your chance of contracting cancer or CVD. So, harmful? No.

How about helpful? Well there are certain vitamins we know that as a population we tend to lack. Vitamin D, which we get from sunlight exposure, is often lacking in Britons. Simply because as a nation we don’t get an awful lot of sunlight.

Depending on your gender, you may lack a number of vitamins or minerals. For example, women tend to be more deficient in iron than men, but seem to have greater levels of Vitamin C. But a multivitamin doesn’t just top up the ones you’re lacking in – it boosts them all. So if you’re lacking a certain mineral, a multivitamin can help you to achieve desirable levels of the mineral.

So multivitamins, if taken sensibly, can’t harm you, and they can help to benefit your health. Unfortunately, it wasn’t only Harvard that did studies. In fact a number of universities across the globe, including Johns Hopkins, suggested that the use of a multivitamin was irrelevant. Essentially suggesting that if you wanted to waste your money on them, do it.

It’s not surprising that multivitamins are popular. Their rapid growth in popularity established a consumer opinion that you could go along eating relatively unhealthily, but using a multivitamin would allow you to compensate for that. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

If you make sure you have a healthy diet then you will get all of the vitamins and minerals you need in a plentiful supply. If you’re concerned that you are particularly lacking in one or more of the vitamins, then go see your doctor. Then you can boost your intake of that one vitamin, rather than taking something that increases all of them.

When it comes down to it, science or religion, our world is filled with enough natural vitamins and minerals that really, there’s no real need to look elsewhere.


Ollie Lawrence
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