By: Adam Tseng
Suppose you’re laying in bed with a bad case of strep throat. Your doctor will most likely prescribe antibiotics for you. If you just have a fever, Tylenol or Advil might help control your body temperature.
Similarly, if you take vitamin supplements, it should be because you lack certain vitamins or minerals in your diet, or your doctor recommends them due to some other health complications. Why, then, are we wolfing down vitamin pills every day when we have good health and the means to eat well?
Vitamin supplements do what they are advertised to do: fill the gaps in someone’s diet. People usually develop vitamin or mineral deficiencies because of a poor diet lacking in those elements, or an inability to absorb them. In any case, these deficiencies can lead to harmful conditions, so supplements may cure them. The problem lies in healthy people who spend money to pop multiple pills a day, believe they will enhance their already nutritional diets.
While vitamins are important, an excess of them doesn’t do any good to the body. For instance, a woman suffering from nyctalopia, or night blindness, might take Vitamin A to restore vision. However, if she starts taking more vitamin A than she needs, it is no longer useful. A man might take iron pills to treat hair loss due to his anemia, or iron deficiency, but excessive amounts do not benefit him in any way.
In some cases, too much of a vitamin might even be harmful. To refer back to the previous example, consuming excessive amounts of vitamin A could increase someone’s risk of fracturing, or breaking their hip by inducing osteoporosis, which reduces bone density and strength. Luckily, drug companies have stepped in and decreased the vitamin A concentration in multivitamins, but the main burden still falls on us to be mindful of how many vitamins we take.
Taking vitamins never beats eating a balanced diet.
Of course, the most imperious issue is money. According to the New York Times, Americans spend a whopping $30 billion a year on dietary supplements such as vitamins and herbs, “many of which are unnecessary or of doubtful benefit to those taking them.” Most of these Americans are adults who make up the healthiest portion of the population. They drink moderate amounts of alcohol, generally do not smoke, and have access to excellent healthcare. These people cite their reason for taking multivitamins as not out of necessity, but “nutritional insurance.”
However, multivitamins aren’t nutritional insurance if they lack certain key diet components, right? Take, for example, dietary fiber. This is an important part of all plant-based foods- for instance, broccoli- that the human digestive system does not break down. Because of this, it cleans out your bowels and lowers cholesterol levels. It’s also missing in many Americans’ diets; a mere five percent of adults in the US consume an adequate amount of dietary fiber. At this point, you might be thinking, “Wouldn’t a multivitamin help?” Interestingly enough, you’d be wrong. The fiber found in supplements is not known to be as effective than natural fiber in lowering cholesterol, which is not a good sign for those who use multivitamins to fortify the most critical parts of their diet such as dietary fiber.
Finally, the vitamins, for all of their controversy, are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Yes, you heard it right. The health claims made by vitamin manufacturers and advertisements aren’t backed by the US Food and Drug Administration. The agency does conduct routine inspections of supplement production facilities, but the products are not guaranteed to be safe or effective. While the FDA does establish good manufacturing practices for supplements, they are not enforced regulations. Independent organizations test products for quality and place seals of approval, but this still does not ensure the safety or effectiveness of the product. So why should we go out of our way to buy pills that aren’t even proven to work and may even be dangerous?
For most people, taking multiple vitamin supplements a day is simply a waste of money and a potential health risk. Your money could be better spent on other health-related activities. Joining a gym, participating in yoga sessions, and consuming more fruits and vegetables are just some of the ways you can enhance your well-being without opening a bottle of vitamins. Remember: only pop the pills if you need them.
Brody, Jane E. “Studies Show Little Benefit in Supplements.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 Nov. 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/11/15/well/eat/studies-show-little-benefit-in-supplements.html.
“Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ods.od.nih.gov/HealthInformation/DS_WhatYouNeedToKnow.aspx.
“Fast Fiber Facts: What It Is and How to Get Enough.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, health.usnews.com/health-care/for-better/articles/2018-08-22/fast-fiber-facts-what-it-is-and-how-to-get-enough.
“Home.” Scientific American, www.scientificamerican.com/.