We have all been taught that vitamins are essential for our well-being. Increasingly, we are turning to supplements to boost our vitamin intake – but are there risks? And do we even need vitamin supplements?
What Are Vitamins?
Vitamins are organic compounds necessary for maintaining our health. We cannot create them in our bodies so we acquire them from food and, in the case of vitamin D, sunlight.
Eating a varied diet is the best way to ensure a steady supply of these vital micronutrients.
However, there is a growing worldwide trend of taking vitamin supplements in addition to the vitamins we get from meals.
While you might think it is a case of ‘the more, the better’ when it comes to vitamin intake, the reality is far different.
The best-case scenario is having too much of some vitamins in your system will not harm you, but there is no benefit either.
The worst-case scenario is death. Some vitamins are incredibly toxic past recommended dosages.
Following the recommended dosages is not easy since it is hard to gauge your exact vitamin intake from food. Ingesting vitamin supplements, in addition, can be a gamble.
Some of the vitamins that are dangerous in high doses include:
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin) – It can cause liver damage and liver failure.
- Vitamin E – It has been linked to heart failure, prostate cancer and other diseases.
- Vitamin A – Studies showed it actually increased the rate of lung cancer in smokers.
Perhaps the most important aspect to address is the huge market in dietary supplements.
Dietary supplements encompass vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids and other products.
Last year in Singapore alone people spent S$490 million on dietary supplements.
In 2016 the global dietary supplement market was estimated to be worth US$133 billion.
Market research indicates it could rise to US$220 billion by 2022.
Worth bearing in mind the next time see you an advert for vitamins or other supplements.
Another fact that might also give you pause for thought concerns regulatory controls.
Countries such as the US and Singapore do not regulate vitamins or supplements, at least not in any rigorous sense.
In Singapore, dietary supplements do not have to be tested for effectiveness, approved or licensed by the Health Sciences Authority.
While in the US, the Food and Drug Administration is only responsible for ensuring dietary supplements are not mislabelled or adulterated.
If you take or plan on taking dietary supplements, check with your country’s governing body to see what regulations are enforced.
Who Should Take Vitamins?
Pregnant women can benefit from a variety of vitamins and minerals, iodine and vitamin B3 (Folic acid) for example, which can help prevent complications during pregnancy.
Of course, people with a diagnosed vitamin deficiency can be well-served by taking supplements. A change diet or lifestyle would be the more recommended course of action.
However, the rest of us should be more wary.
A recent study suggests that taking vitamins to ward against poor dietary habits does not work.
Furthermore, despite billions in research, there is no conclusive evidence that taking vitamins prevents chronic disease.
A review of 27 vitamin trials by a group of US doctors titled ‘Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements’ concluded:
‘Supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults with (most) mineral or vitamin supplements has no clear benefit and might even be harmful.’
The Bottom Line
There can be benefits to taking vitamins for specific groups of people, but by and large, the evidence does not show substantial benefit for the majority of us.
The most important thing to note is that they do not act as a shortcut to good health.
There are many other nutrients in foods which contribute to our health that vitamin supplements cannot replace, such as phytonutrients found in plant foods.
A varied diet and being active are still the keys to well-being.
If you think you have a vitamin deficiency or any kind of medical problem, it is best to seek advice from a healthcare professional.