Expensive wee…is that all multivits give us?!
10 pages of notes I have here. TEN PAGES. Do you know how long that’s going to take me to simplify into a concise little blogeroo?! Actually not very long. Because folks, almost everything I’ve read says pretty much exactly the same thing. There is no Argument 1 vs Argument 2, with Argument 1.5 being the inevitable (middle ground) winner. No, no, no. Rather boringly, everyone seems to be aligned. For someone who enjoys a good argument, this is a bit dull, but hey, in this day and age I shouldn’t really complain about an instance of unanimity. Instead, maybe we should celebrate the consensus, which is:
Vitamins are nutrients your body needs in small amounts to work properly and stay healthy. Most people should get all the nutrients they need by having a varied and balanced diet. Although a few people may need to take extra vitamins, that group is small and it’s not the general population. The end.
That really is basically it. But I’m a talker, so indulge me for just a few minutes more…
Did you know that there are two types of vitamins?
1. Water-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins B6, B12, C and folic acid). You can’t store these in your body so you need a steady supply from your diet. These vitamins are in fresh fruit and green vegetables. It’s best to eat these raw, steamed or grilled rather than boiled because boiling can easily destroy the vitamins.
2. Fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins A, D and E). You can store these in your body but they should still be part of a healthy diet. They’re mainly found in fatty foods, such as animal fats (including butter and lard), vegetable oils, dairy foods and oily fish.
If you’re a generally well human bean, with no symptoms and have a reasonable diet, it’s very unlikely that you’ve got a significant vitamin deficiency (a blood test at the Dr’s can tell you for sure). Supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults has no clear benefit. The question is whether taking them will do you any harm. The small print on the tub tells you the recommended daily allowance of each active ingredient. If you stick to that, you should be OK. Vitamins B and C are water-soluble, so any excess ends up in your wee…you can’t boost these vitamin levels past ‘enough’.
However, vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble, so excess is stored in fat and places like your liver, and levels can build up. If you take a large extra dose, you can apparently overdose on them, which is probably why they are usually found in much smaller quantities in vitamin pills.
There are a few important cases where vitamin supplements can be useful, though: growing children between 6 months and 4 years old are advised to take vitamins A, C & D. Very strict vegetarians may need supplementary vitamin B12, and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also consider supplements – especially vitamin D and folic acid.
Vitamin D is rare in our diet, and is formed in the body when we are exposed to sunlight, and in the UK it seems many of us are not getting enough so the elderly, the very young and those who are housebound are often advised to consider taking this as a supplement.
There is clearly a very genuine need in some cases, but my conclusion concerns the general public rather than a select few. I worry that it’s too easy to rely on an easy to pop pill, rather than focusing on improving your diet. Taking a daily vitamin and then reverting to junky processed food is surely a lose lose situation. I also think that there is a bit of a risk of companies who sell supplements fuelling false health anxieties, and then offering unnecessary cures. So I’m a little bit skeptical and don’t necessarily believe the ‘results’ published by the very same people who are trying to sell me something. Marketeers will always sell, but when it comes to vitamins – some is good, but more is not necessarily better.
Trust me I’m a Doctor, BBC2.
Food Standards Agency
I am not a dietician or a nutritionist, and make no claims to the contrary. What is written on this site should not be taken as fact or advice. It is merely an opinion blog.