There are lots of vitamins out there, in multiple forms. But in one survey, just three percent of respondents reporting using them for what would presumably be their intended use: Addressing suspected dietary deficiencies.
Whatever the other 97 percent are hoping to get out of it, there is scant evidence to suggest consumption of vitamins and mineral supplements will have substantial positive health effects. Timothy Caulfield, a health law and policy chair at the University of Alberta, cited a systemic review this year which concluded that proof “for the benefit of any supplement across all dietary backgrounds was not demonstrated.”
The American Heart Association advises against taking antioxidant vitamin supplements, as no research suggests these can reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, or have any similar benefit. To the contrary, excess consumption can cause harm. One study showed that 20 percent liver toxicity incidents are caused by supplements. Another paper attributed 23,000 ER visits a year to adverse reactions to these potions.
Part of the reason may be lack of regulatory oversight. One study showed that two-thirds of herbal products contained ingredients different from what was on the label.
For those taking them, there are various ways to get vitamins and minerals to their innards: Traditional tablets, liquids, sprays, mists, patches, injections, and even vitamin-infused e-cigarettes and beer for those ambiguous about getting healthy.
But barring a clinically-identified deficiency, there is little reason to consume any of these. Some of them would make sense for those needing a specific benefit, such as women who require extra folic acid during pregnancy. Or, once the baby is born, formula fortified with iron would be advisable for infants low on this vital element.
While vitamins and minerals are necessary to good health, the AHA states that the best way to ingest them is via a balanced diet. On the AHA website, nutrition professor Penny Kris-Etherton writes this is because foods provide bioactive compounds and dietary fiber unavailable in supplements. That, plus some supplements inhibit the full absorption of vitamins.
While diet is the key to getting the right amount of vitamins and minerals, not all bodies process food equally. So if a healthy, balanced diet leaves one still deficient in the potassium department, a supplement of this mineral to aid in heart and kidney health would be logical. Another example: Per the AHA, heart disease patients should consume a daily gram of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish would help with this, but it can still be hard to get this acid through diet alone, so an omega-3 supplement would be beneficial.
The key is that these are called supplements, not replacements or the end-all, and they are specific augmentations treating identified conditions.
A good diet is one that is balanced, nutritious, and which limits calories, sweets, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and cholesterol. Do all that and there’s not much need to pop a Fred Flintstone.