Do you take a multivitamin as part of your daily regime? Does it serve a specific purpose related to your health history, or is it just a general precaution to improve overall health? Did a doctor tell you to take it, or was it your own initiative?
About half of all Americans take some sort of vitamin or mineral supplement every day. It’s a $12 billion industry in this country. But how effective is it? Do you really need those vitamins you’re taking, or are they a waste of money?
The main type of vitamins that people take are multivitamins. From kids’ Flintstone Chewables and gummy vitamins to the standard pills, they provide us with our daily recommended allowance of a variety of common vitamins and minerals. In fact, if you look at the nutritional labels, most of these supplements contain more than 100% of the daily recommended allowance of many of the vitamins they provide.
The purpose of multivitamins is to make sure we’re getting the nutrition we’re supposed to. Do you plan out your daily meals to make sure there are foods with enough zinc and magnesium to meet the quota? Probably not. So ostensibly, a multivitamin can supplement your regular meals and provide you with all your nutrients. And getting more than 100% just means you’ll be even healthier, right? Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it works.
Supplements and Science
At the moment, there is no conclusive proof that taking a daily multivitamin will make you any healthier than you would be by simply getting your daily nutrition from the food you eat. Even if you’re not keeping track of the exact levels of every vitamin and mineral in everything you consume, as long as you eat healthy, balanced meals that include plenty of fruits and vegetables, then chances are you’ll get what you need.
Furthermore, consuming excess vitamins and minerals won’t make you healthier. If you get 200% of your daily recommended dose of Vitamin C, the extra amount will be expelled from your body as waste.
But what if you take a supermassive dose of Vitamin C, to protect yourself during cold and flu season? You could end up doing serious damage to your body. Every vitamin and mineral has an upper limit that you can take safely. The good news is, that limit is usually pretty high, and anything less than that, but in excess of the amount you need, is useless but harmless. The bad news is, if you pass that limit, you can do serious damage to your body.
If you take more than 2,000mg of Vitamin C in a day, it can cause nausea, vomiting, kidney stones, and organ damage. If you take more than 40mg of zinc per day, it can cause fever, jaundice, liver damage, and more. It’s the same way with any other supplement. If you overdo it, it can cause serious harm.
The only reason you should take a vitamin or mineral supplement is if your doctor recommends it. There are plenty of actual health benefits that they provide, as remedies for specific problems. If you’re anemic, they may prescribe you iron pills. If you’re at risk for osteoporosis, they may give you calcium.
Talk to your doctor before beginning to take any supplement. They can look at your specific health history and determine whether it would be helpful, harmful, or just a waste of money. They may also recommend certain dietary changes that can give you what you need without supplements. Don’t just take pills for the vague notion of “being healthier.” Have a specific purpose and a specific goal in mind, and work with your doctor to achieve those goals in the most effective way, to make you healthier and happier for years to come.