Another study about vitamin supplements and another nail in the coffin. After decades of health advocates telling us vitamins in pills are good for us, we’re now learning they aren’t. Or at least they’re not beneficial.
Despite this new evidence, nearly a third of adults take vitamins and over 70% in people over 65 years. With all these people buying vitamins, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry.
The latest study looked at vitamin D to prevent diabetes in people with high blood sugar. Since people with low vitamin D levels in their blood have a greater chance of getting diabetes, taking vitamin D may help. And short-term studies indicated that vitamin D may lower blood sugar. But when it comes to preventing diabetes, taking a vitamin pill doesn’t cut it. Whether people were taking vitamin D or placebo, their chances of getting diabetes was the same.
This isn’t the first time a vitamin supplement has showed promise only to be proven wrong later on. Vitamin D was also thought to be protective against heart disease. Yet more recent and robust studies show that not to be the case. The same goes for cancer and preventing fractures. Vitamin D has no effect.
Other early studies also showed promise with B vitamins in preventing heart disease. People with high levels of homocysteine have a greater chance of getting heart disease. B vitamins lower homocysteine, so it seemed reasonable that taking these vitamins would reduce your chances of getting heart disease. Again, however, this didn’t turn out. People taking B vitamins did end up lowering their homocysteine but it did nothing for preventing heart disease.
You Need Vitamins to Live
Vitamins are essential for your body to work. For example, vitamin A is needed for good vision and development of organs. While vitamin K is needed for clotting of the blood. Without it, you could bleed to death from a simple cut.
In no other situation is the effect of vitamin deficiency more apparent than in the British Navy during the 18th century. At this time, scurvy, caused by a lack of vitamin C, claimed more sailors lives than war itself. With the supplementation of citrus on naval ships, scurvy all but disappeared and sailors were given the slang term of limeys.
Today, however, vitamin deficiency in western society is extremely rare. We may have poor diets, but we don’t lack for vitamins. So why did people start taking vitamins in the first place?
The Science of Vitamins
Within science, there’s an obsession of breaking things down to a single factor. In the case of diets, this means trying to find out what is the single ingredient that makes a good diet. There’s lots of evidence that fruits and vegetables are good for us, so scientists asked what makes them so good. Since they are full of vitamins, this became the natural target. And early studies did show a benefit of taking vitamins.
However, these studies were only observational. This means people were asked if they took vitamins or not. Then years later scientists checked in on their health to see if there was a difference in those taking vitamins and those who didn’t.
These are important initial studies, but they don’t tell us if vitamins can prevent disease or not. Mainly because people who take vitamins tend to be more health conscious than people who don’t. They’re more active, less likely to smoke, see their doctor more often, etc. And it is likely these effects which lead to a lower chance of disease and early death.
Is there harm in taking vitamin supplements?
There are two main types of vitamins; water soluble and fat soluble. Water soluble vitamins (B and C) are those that dissolve in water. If you take in more of these vitamins than you need, you’ll just end up peeing them out.
Fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) cannot dissolve in water and are needed to be carried in fat globules in the blood. Any excess amounts of these vitamins are stored in the liver and fat tissues. As a result, too much of these vitamins can be toxic. In a healthy diet, this is rare, but even a small dose of vitamin E over eight years was associated with a 17% increase chance in prostate cancer.
It’s also possible for people to be allergic to the ingredients of vitamin pills. And given that vitamins are not regulated to the same extent as drugs, disclosure of the full ingredients isn’t not always available. And if you take medications, you may wish to discuss any vitamins or supplements with your pharmacist to check for interactions.
Money well spent?
For most people, however, the biggest harm of taking vitamin supplements may be to your wallet. You’ll be paying for something of no benefit.
It’s not known why vitamin supplements don’t work in preventing disease when they’re so important to our health. It could be our diets are nutritionally sufficient and we get all the vitamins we need. It could also be that for vitamins to be effective, they need to be eaten as part of food, and not taken as a pill.
There is still so much we don’t know about nutrition, but the best evidence we have around nutrition is still on whole, natural foods.
If you like this post, don’t forget to subscribe to my blog by clicking the FOLLOW button at the top of the right panel.