Do daily vitamins actually work?
- In 2018, Americans spent nearly $31 billion on vitamins and nutritional supplements.
- A ConsumerLab.com survey of vitamin and supplement users found that vitamin D was the most popular vitamin taken among those polled.
- A recent Harris Poll on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association found that 86 percent of American adults take daily vitamins; however, “only about a quarter (24 percent) of those taking vitamins or supplements received test results indicating they have a nutritional deficiency.”
- Whole food supplements, “made from concentrated, dehydrated whole foods,” differ from synthetically-derived vitamin products, which account for the majority currently available on the market.
Daily vitamin-taking is not beneficial to peoples' health because our bodies evolved to absorb nutrients from natural food sources--not synthetic ones. Further, vitamin supplements were not initially designed for daily use as a catch-all nutritional boost; instead, they were intended to treat deficiencies that could not be addressed through diet alone.
Many people may find it tempting to simply take a multivitamin each day rather than plan out a balanced daily diet; however, vitamin supplements cannot fix a poor diet. While our bodies need specific nutrients to survive, there is growing evidence to suggest that getting them from actual food sources is a much healthier option than consuming them from synthetic sources. These nutrients may work in conjunction with other components called trace elements found in natural foods; thus, rendering vitamins a less effective source. Multiple studies have shown that eating a balanced diet full of nutrient-rich food lowers the risk of many chronic diseases; however, the same studies are mostly inconclusive concerning vitamins.
The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 mandated that the FDA only regulates vitamins after they reach the market, meaning that the exact amount of each specific vitamin or mineral in a multivitamin may not be what is stated on the label. In most cases, this means that consumers may not be receiving as much of a particular vitamin as they believe. This lack of regulation can pose a severe health risk, as inconsistencies could make it easy for users to consume toxic amounts inadvertently.
For safety and efficiency, ditching the vitamins and sticking to natural food is best.
Proper nutrition is the foundation of good health. When used correctly and for their intended purpose, daily vitamins can play an essential role in achieving and maintaining better health. Much of the controversy surrounding the efficacy of taking daily vitamins relates to unrealistic expectations, improper use, and a lack of nutritional knowledge.
A daily vitamin isn't a substitute for a healthy diet, nor is it a cure-all. It's foolish to expect that taking vitamins can cancel out the negative impact of a diet made up of ultra-processed foods laden with chemicals, fats, sugars, and salt--as well as other poor health choices, like not being physically active enough. Vitamins address the temporary nutritional challenges that most encounter periodically while preventing the negative impacts of serious deficiencies.
Some life periods are more nutritionally demanding than others, including pregnancy, the rapid growth of childhood, fighting illness or disease, and wound healing. Poor health, travel, stress, and insufficient income are just some of the life circumstances that can contribute to periods of poor nutrition. Vitamins can be a valuable means of meeting nutritional needs during a temporary demand spike or while working towards long-term dietary solutions.
Real food is the best source of nutrition. However, fruits, vegetables, and grains are only as good as the soil they're grown in, so even with the best dietary efforts, nutrient shortfalls can happen. Vitamins can serve as nutritional insurance for the occasional unintended nutritional gap.
Vitamins don't have the same governmental oversight as food and drugs do, so it's crucial to do your manufacturer research, choose carefully, and then reap the benefits that vitamins can offer.