Are Daily Vitamins a Total Waste of Your Time and Money?
Experts: If you are a reasonably healthy person who can afford three-square meals a day, put your money in quitting smoking,  exercising and eating a fiber-rich diet rather than daily vitamins (Photo: iStock altered by The Quint)
Experts: If you are a reasonably healthy person who can afford three-square meals a day, put your money in quitting smoking, exercising and eating a fiber-rich diet rather than daily vitamins (Photo: iStock altered by The Quint)

Are Daily Vitamins a Total Waste of Your Time and Money?

Do you just pop pills (read vitamins) without much thought? Congratulations, on wasting a lot of money. We all need vitamins to survive, but not necessarily from supplements.

So before you pop in another pill, read this: three studies published in medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that a daily multivitamin won’t help boost your health, won’t prevent a heart attack, will not increase your memory and there is no way it can enhance your lifespan. Surprised? Read on.

The Sun Goes Down on Daily Vitamins?

Vitamins and minerals in your diet are good for you, but megadoses of supplements won’t keep you out of the hospital or make you live longer (Photo courtesy: Tumblr)
Vitamins and minerals in your diet are good for you, but megadoses of supplements won’t keep you out of the hospital or make you live longer (Photo courtesy: Tumblr)

The findings that regular vitamins are no good to us aren’t exactly new. Vitamin supplements are a multi-billion dollar industry in the world but now a growing body of research points to the fact that dietary supplements might be sheer waste of money for the majority of the population who has access to nutritional, home-cooked food.

In a strongly worded editorial, Dr Eliseo Guallar, a Professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, raises doubt whether these supplements do any good at all to us:

β-carotene, vitamin E, and possibly high doses of vitamin A supplements are harmful. Other antioxidants, folic acid and B vitamins, and multivitamin and mineral supplements are ineffective for preventing mortality or morbidity due to major chronic diseases. Supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults with (most) mineral or vitamin supplements has no clear benefit and might even be harmful. These vitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention. Enough is enough.
Dr. Eliseo Guallar, Professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Much of the vitamin-popping population can already afford healthy meals at home, so they are already getting their daily recommended doses of vitamins, minerals through diet and don’t need any extra supplementation - certainly not at the levels vitamins contain (Photo courtesy: Tumblr/UCResearch)
Much of the vitamin-popping population can already afford healthy meals at home, so they are already getting their daily recommended doses of vitamins, minerals through diet and don’t need any extra supplementation - certainly not at the levels vitamins contain (Photo courtesy: Tumblr/UCResearch)

A University of Colorado expert, Tim Byers, feels multivitamins can be good for you only if taken in the correct dosage and under supervision. However, there is no substitute for a fresh, balanced, nutritional meal.

At a recent international cancer research meeting he also pointed out that people who take more dietary supplements than required tend to have a higher risk of developing cancer. It is still not known why this is happening but there is evidence for it.

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Are Dietary Supplements No Good For the Malnourished Indian Population Too?

In India, the scenario may be a bit different because a significant part of the population is under nourished. For them, it may be a good idea to fill the nutrient gaps by giving supplements, for a fixed time period. But continuing it for an indefinite period and without investigating the deficiencies is certainly not recommended.

Another big problem is that a majority of the supplements contain nutrient amounts higher than the recommended dietary allowance; many brands do not even disclose the contents of formulation. In such cases, unsupervised intake of vitamins can pose a serious health risk in the susceptible population. This has certainly not been viewed seriously.

If you are a vegan, pregnant woman, someone who gets very little sunshine, an athlete or undernourished - chalk out a supplementation plan with your doctor and stick to it.

Overdose

Go for a varied diet, get basic exercise and some sunshine - for 99% people, that’s all the vitamins they need (Photo courtesy: Tumblr/@Rybitz)
Go for a varied diet, get basic exercise and some sunshine - for 99% people, that’s all the vitamins they need (Photo courtesy: Tumblr/@Rybitz)

Vitamin overdose can cause permanent health damage.

Too much vitamin D can lead to an overdose and can irreversibly damage the kidneys and heart. Also, an overdose does not improve functional ability, in fact, it is associated with an increased fall risk!

Vitamin B6 overdose can cause nerve toxicity, while B3 can lead to nausea, jaundice, and liver toxicity.  Too much folic acid too can mask the symptoms of a B12 deficiency.

Bottom line: Vitamins are a small, mysterious piece in the larger nutrition puzzle. It’s all about the lifestyle, healthy food and exercise - stop looking for a one-stop-shop multivitamin miracle.

Also Read: Do Medicines Expire? What Happens If You Take Them?

(Dr Ashwini Setya is a Gastroenterologist and Programme Director in Delhi’s Max Super Speciality Hospital. His endeavor is to help people lead a healthy life without medication. He can be reached at ashwini.setya@gmail.com)

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