Should we take multivitamins to be on the safe side or are there risks associated with taking a multivitamin?
There are many different multivitamin companies that try to sell their supplements. Some supplements market using health claims while others remain more generic. It can be very confusing determining whether you should take a daily multivitamin. This especially rings true during winter when people are more inclined to reach for a vitamin supplement while trying to fight off sicknesses.
With chronic diseases and obesity on the rise, people are also trying many supplements in order to find a cure for their low energy levels, weight gain, and health problems. Supplement companies exploit illnesses for their benefit. You can find many advertisements and articles about a certain supplement and why it will help with all of your health related problems.
In fact, the revenue of supplement production went from 30.7 billion dollars in 2018 to 32 billion dollars in 2019 (source). It certainly is a huge business for profit so keep that in mind when you see advertisements.
Some supplements can help your health in certain situations and might be necessary. Others are just a hoax and you are better off saving your money. Today, I would like to talk about what multivitamins can do for you, the risks of taking multivitamins, and when these supplements might actually be necessary.
What does a multivitamin do for you?
Generally a multivitamin is supposed to provide all needed vitamins and minerals for the day. So if you can’t get all your nutrients with your diet it seems as if a multivitamin is an easy fix to obtain the recommended intakes. It would seem to prevent major nutrient deficiencies. This might be an option if you are in a situation where healthy eating is impossible. It could be a short term solution, but if you consider multivitamin supplementation long term, read the risks below and reconsider.
When are vitamin supplements necessary?
Before we get into all the reasons you should not take a multivitamin I would like to mention that I am not talking about a single vitamin or mineral supplement. If your doctor diagnoses a vitamin or mineral deficiency, he or she can tell you the exact supplement and dose to take each day.
For example, if you have a vitamin D deficiency, your health care provider can tell you the exact amount of vitamin D you should take per day to balance your levels. This depends on how low your blood levels are and other factors. A multivitamin in this case would not be a good idea, but a vitamin D supplement is absolutely necessary.
Deficiencies like this happen if you don’t eat a balanced diet, if you follow fad diets, or if you don’t maintain an active lifestyle. Other diseases or deficiencies can also play a role.
7 Risks of Taking a Multivitamin
#1 Multivitamins can have side effects
There have been multiple side effects associated with certain vitamin supplement intake. Some supplements can cause gut issues while others can increase the risk of kidney stones. High vitamin C intake through supplements, for example, increases the risk of developing kidney stones. This is not true for high vitamin C consumption through foods (source). These high vitamin C supplements, or multivitamins with high dosages, should be avoided and there is simply no need to take them. One half of a yellow bell pepper alone covers almost 150% of your daily need in vitamin C. In this case, choosing whole plant foods will provide the vitamin C you need without the side effects.
#2 Multivitamins are not regulated
Supplements, unlike food and medicine, are not regulated by the FDA. This means that there is no knowing if the supplement you are taking actually works. Supplement companies do not have to prove their product’s efficacy.This also means there is no knowing if the amount of each vitamin they add to the supplement is enough or if it exceeds the limit. Some supplements are called multivitamin yet they leave out certain nutrients that you actually need. For example, 98% of people in the US are not eating the recommended amount of potassium (source), yet many multi vitamins do not contain potassium or only contain a low amount. One of the leading multivitamin brands, “Centrum,” only contains 2% of the needed daily amount.
And if you look at multivitamin gummies, you can’t even find calcium or iron. This is probably because these minerals wouldn’t taste good in the gummy. As you can see, there is no guarantee you are getting all of your nutrients or enough of them.
#3 Multivitamins won’t treat the cause of health issues
Just because you consume a multivitamin does not mean you are healthy. If you are still following an unhealthy lifestyle, your supplement won’t help much. Research has found that intake of multivitamins does not reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, mental decline, or rates of heart attack (source). On the other hand, a whole food plant based diet has shown to have some of these benefits.
#4 Multivitamins can reduce motivation for eating healthy
I have seen plenty of people who take a multivitamin for their conscience then proceed with their unhealthy lifestyle. These people tend to think “at least I take my vitamins.” Relying on vitamin supplements for health decreases the motivation to actually eat healthy. Some might think they don’t need to reach for actual fruits and veggies because their supplements already contain all the nutrients they need. And this thinking is dangerous because multivitamins do not contain all the nutrients you need and they can’t take away the bad foods you are consuming.
#5 Multivitamins don’t contain other essential nutrients
The supplements can contain essential nutrients your body needs but your body additionally needs omega-3 fatty acids for anti-inflammatory benefits, fiber and probiotics for healthy gut flora, good digestion, and a strong immune system, and phytochemicals. Some supplements contain omega-3’s or probiotics and prebiotics (fiber) but most of them do not contain phytochemicals. Phytochemicals, the secondary metabolites and powerful molecules in plants, have become more prominent in the studies of cancer prevention and treatment, neurodegenerative diseases, metabolic disease, and restoration of damaged cells (source). You can find them in plants.
#6 lOW NUTRIENT Absorption
Calcium can be present in multivitamins in the form of calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Calcium carbonate is less expensive but calcium citrate is better absorbed by the body. Some companies would provide the daily value of a mineral but, because they choose the cheaper form, it might not even be fully absorbed. Other multivitamins fail to break apart at the right time, consequently jeopardizing the absorption of its ingredients (source).
#7 Risk of Overdose
There are vitamins that get stored in your body and won’t get flushed out even when over consumed. These fat soluble vitamins are vitamin A, D, E, and K. Let’s say you take a multivitamin and it covers a certain nutritional need you have, at the same time it can add too much of another vitamin that you already eat enough of. Exceeding the recommended daily allowance, especially in fat soluble vitamins, can cause an overdose and vitamin toxicity.