Growing up, my parents were insistent that I take a multivitamin to stay healthy. In fact, they were always trying to get us kids to take some form of supplement. Apparently my parents weren’t alone. According to a 2010 survey about 73%
of Canadians take some form of vitamin health product. For many, vitamins have been a product purchased regularly and seen as health shield for all of the nasty diseases out there. After all, many say right on the box “complete nutrition,” or “for a healthy you.” Evidence continues to pile on that vitamin supplements are unnecessary and in some cases dangerous to your health. The vitamin industry began about 60 years ago and initially intended to support the nutritional levels of those who did not have access to fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. However in today’s society, the nutrition in our food is more than enough to keep our vitamin levels in check. Even breads, salts and junk foods are fortified with nutrients. Even though there is no clear link that vitamins lower risk for many ailments such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, people still buy into this billion dollar industry.
So why do we keep pumping our money into this billion dollar industry? Some experts believe it to be the product of recent fads and clever marketing strategy to create the illusion of a healthier you. Others blame fear and a lack of education. The best way to get your vitamins is the good old fashion way. Eating food! It is virtually impossible to overdose on the nutrients in food, unlike the risk in supplements such as calcium, folic acid, copper, and iron. Overdosing on these supplements can cause many issues, ranging from inflammation of the blood vessels and increase risk of prostate cancer to tissue damage and insomnia. Another issue to consider with vitamins is label misrepresentation. Studies performed on various vitamins show less than half the labels actually comprised of the ingredients listed. Some products contain fairly large amounts of lead and mercury, which can be extremely hazardous to your health. Even though vitamins may be useless to the average person, there are some people that could benefit from the nutrition they offer. Folic acid, while dangerous for some, has been proven to help prevent birth defects in women who are pregnant. Iron is a supplement that can be helpful to replace iron lost during monthly menstruation as well as for patient diagnosed with anemia. One of the biggest issues that we see in the medical community is a lack of vitamin D. Since most of our vitamin D comes from the sun, during the fall and winter seasons many Canadians lack the appropriate amounts, and may benefit from a supplement. A lack of vitamin D can be the source of seasonal mood disorders and is essential for healthy bones.
The bottom line is that most health experts agree that although multivitamins have their place, they are not a replacement for a well-balanced diet and should not be used without consulting your healthcare professional.