Many people believe that popping a multivitamin makes a large difference in our health, provides us with energy, and makes us live longer. People can believe whatever they want but the real question here is… where is the evidence to support those beliefs?
I’ll start by confessing that I used to take a daily multivitamin, not based on scientific evidence, but because it just felt “right.” It gave me a peace of mind by knowing that even if I wasn’t eating a balanced diet, taking a pill would make everything okay.
That was until I found out that higher iron body stores can lead to cancer-causing free radicals by promoting iron-induced oxidative stress. Oh and guess what? Centrum for Men contains 6 mg of iron per tablet.
A huge waste of money. Not to be mistaken, extra iron may be good for women who are menstruating or those with iron deficiency anemia, but bad for individuals with iron storage diseases, and may be harmful for men.
Do I Need a Multivitamin?
The short answer is no. No supplement trial has been able to replicate the health benefits of eating sufficient amounts of fruits and vegetables. Many studies, observations, and speculations have suggested that supplementation is beneficial, but when you stick to hard scientific evidence, there’s simply not enough.
But I thought that tiny pill was equivalent to eating fruits and vegetables?
Absolutely not. Natural foods contain many more compounds than the few we currently know about and can stuff into a pill. As an example, there are hundreds of antioxidants in vegetables, many perhaps acting together to produce greater effects, but we have only been able to discover and isolate a small number.
How much of the multivitamin is actually absorbed?
Have you ever noticed the color of your urine after taking a multivitamin? It’s essentially bright neon green. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought that I had accidentally ingested a highlighter. So why does this happen? The B vitamins found in a multivitamin are not fully absorbed and therefore any excess is passed in the urine. Although this is not harmful in anyway, it makes you think about certain “higher quality” multivitamins like USANA Essentials which contains 27 mg of riboflavin (vitamin B2) per serving which is 1580% of the vitamin B2 you need each day! Even after 1 mg/day is reached, tissue saturation occurs and significant amounts of B2 are excreted. I don’t even want to imagine how my urine would look after taking USANA.
In general, only about 10% of most multivitamins are absorbed into your body. One reason is that the binders which are used to make the tablets are not readily broken down in your digestive tract. Also, our bodies cannot properly process synthetic vitamins which are chemical copies of vitamins that are not actually derived from food sources. Synthetic vitamins do not have the necessary co-factors (substances needed for biochemical reactions) that our bodies need to recognize and utilise it as a food source.
Furthermore, certain vitamins interact when taken together, causing their absorption to increase or decrease as a result. For example, taking iron with vitamin C will increase the absorption of iron! This could easily lead to iron toxicity. Also, if the multivitamin contains calcium and phosphorus, both are less absorbed because they compete with each other in the body. This could cause deficiencies, leading to bone loss.
But at least it won’t hurt…?
Despite the lack of evidence, people continue to take supplements based on the assumption that it will not be harmful and correct their “poor diet.”
An analysis of vitamin E trials showed an increased rate in death at high dosages.
A trial evaluating Vitamin E and selenium to prevent prostate cancer found that vitamin E actually increased the rate of prostate cancer and selenium increased the number of diabetes cases. These concerns were enough to prematurely stop the trial.
The Bottom line
The evidence on the safety of supplementation is very limited because trials are not typically designed to measure safety outcomes.
There are many things that can be done to improve our health that avoid taking the supplement route. A healthy diet, exercise, and getting more sleep/sleeping earlier would be my ideal recommendations.
So how much money have you wasted on vitamins that provide no benefit? Excess is eliminated as seen by our alien green pee. Are we just producing costly urine? Are those vitamins in our sewage somehow good for our environment?
It’s ironic that people who discourage taking pills for medical reasons are encouraging others to take pills to offset poor eating habits.