Multi vitamins are one of the most popular health and fitness supplements around. Even people who are not really into their fitness tend to purchase these supplements. A lot of my friends take a daily multi vitamin but would never consider purchasing protein shakes. I myself started purchasing multi vitamins when I moved out of my parent’s house to make sure I was getting the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of each of the thirteen vitamins. I used to pop a multi vitamin in my mouth each morning and never thought twice. However, I recently wrote some articles on each of the vitamins and this made me want to take another look at multi vitamins.
As I mentioned above a lot of people purchase multi vitamins because they want to make sure they are getting the recommended amount of each type. In principal this is fine. All the vitamins help the body perform essential functions and a deficiency can lead to a number of adverse side effects. However, if you look a little deeper into the marketing claims made by multi vitamin supplment companies problems start to arise. Below I will be discussing five of my biggest multi vitamin concerns.
1) MULTI VITAMINS INDIRECTLY PROMOTE POOR DIETARY CHOICES:- A lot of multi vitamins state that you need to take them because modern diets are rich in highly processed foods that do not contain adequate vitamins. A multi vitamin will therefore allow you to correct the balance and top up on these missing vitamins. So in other words these supplements are providing an excuse for poor dietary choices. I know from experience that many people use multi vitamins as a reason to avoid fruits and vegetables and eat less healthy foods. I have heard a numerous people say things along the lines of; “I don’t really like fruits and vegetables but it’s OK because I take multi vitamins”. Whilst a poor diet will probably benefit from multi vitamin supplementation I do not think the right message is being sent out. Instead of seeing multi vitamins as a magic pill for people who make poor dietary choices they need to be encouraged to eat healthier, vitamin rich foods.
2) MULTI VITAMINS ENCOURAGE OVERDOSING:- A lot of people read about the benefits of multi vitamins and get the idea in their head that the more they take the healthier they will be. This is because many multi vitamin supplements fail to provide adequate warning about the possible consequences of overdosing. Overdosing on water soluble vitamins is generally not a huge problem as the body excretes any it does not need (although it can lead to some unpleasant side effects such as headaches). However, overdosing on fat soluble vitamins can lead to much more serious complications. The body stores any excess fat soluble vitamins in the liver and fatty tissues for later use. If these stores become too big they reach toxic levels which causes a number of problems. Getting too much vitamin A can weaken your bones and stunt your growth. Overdosing on vitamin D can lead to calcium deposits which cause significant damage to your body’s organs. Consuming too much vitamin K can lead to your liver and red blood cells becoming damaged. Whilst this problem is not specific to multi vitamins (you can overdose on vitamins through your diet) they are more concentrated than food sources and therefore make overdosing easier. You do not hear of many people eating 10 apples a day to try and be healthier but most people think nothing of popping a few extra multi vitamins.
3) MULTI VITAMINS MAKE YOU MISS OUT ON OTHER IMPORTANT NUTRIENTS:- Taking multi vitamin tablets often means that you miss out on other important nutrients. For example if you take a multi vitamin and skimp on the fruits and vegetables you will be missing out on a lot of dietary fibre. If you consume a multi vitamin because you do not like nuts then you will be missing out on a lot of omega 3 fatty acids which are also required for good health. Vitamins are not the only thing you need for good health and a lot of people that take multi vitamins forget this.
4) MULTI VITAMINS CAN BE UNBALANCED:- When I started writing about vitamins one of the first things I did was look at my current multi vitamin supplement to see what it contained. I assumed it would contain 100% of the RDA for each of the thirteen vitamins. However, I was quite surprised to see that it was very unbalanced. It contained 100% of the recommended allowance for vitamin A but a huge 1000% of the RDA for vitamin B12. Whilst this is not a huge problem as B12 is water soluble (and therefore very difficult to overdose on) the same supplement also contained 200% of the RDA for vitamin D which could lead to dangerous calcium deposits. Furthermore, this is just one supplement. Other supplements contain completely different concentrations of the various vitamins meaning they could potentially contain toxic levels of fat soluble vitamins.
5) MULTI VITAMINS DO NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT YOUR CURRENT DIET:- On top of the fact that different multi vitamin tablets contain different concentrations of each vitamin, most people do not think about their current diet when taking these supplements. Your current diet may contain the RDA for certain vitamins and be lacking in others. If you take a multi vitamin to fill these gaps you will also be overdosing on the vitamins for which your diet contains adequate levels. People eat so many different foods and I don’t think one tablet can be relied upon to fill the various gaps in different people’s diets.
6) MULTI VITAMINS CAN BE TOXIC:- Many multi vitamins are synthetic which means they are laboratory simulations of natural vitamins. These synthetic vitamins often contain a number of toxic by-products which can be damaging to your health. This means that not only do multi vitamins encourage you to take potentially toxic doses but in a lot of cases they contain toxic ingredients too.
7) MULTI VITAMINS CANNOT BE ABSORBED AS EASILY:- Your body is designed to absorb vitamins in their natural form and often struggles to absorb synthetic versions. Therefore, even if you are getting the RDA of the various vitamins through supplements you are unlikely to be getting the full benefits that natural alternatives would provide.
Since I wrote my original articles on vitamins I have not touched my multi vitamin supplement. The main reason for this is that I did not know how damaging overdosing on certain vitamins could be. After doing my research and finding this out I did not want to take the risk. People may have a genuine reason for being deficient in certain vitamins. For example, certain medicines can interfere with the absorption of vitamin K. In these instances supplementation for that specific vitamin may be required. However, I do not think ‘one size fits all’ multi vitamins are the answer. Everyone eats differently and therefore has different vitamin requirements. My advice is to look at your current diet and then try to address the vitamin deficiencies by adding some additional foods. For example, if you are lacking in vitamin A try and add some liver, milk, carrots or spinach to your diet. Not only will you be topping up on vitamin A but you will be getting some dietary fibre and other important nutrients too. If there is a genuine reason that you cannot get the RDA of certain vitamins from the foods you eat then get some supplements that provide you with just those vitamins.
In my opinion you should not try and substitute real, whole foods with synthetic tablets. You can get adequate amounts of each of the thirteen vitamins by eating a healthy, well balanced diet and getting some sunlight each day (for vitamin D). There will be exceptions where your require a supplement for a specific vitamin but overall diet should be the focus when getting your RDA of the thirteen vitamins.
What’s your opinion on multi vitamins? Do you currently take them? Has this article made you rethink your approach? Do you have any counter arguments that promote multi vitamins? Are there any other adverse effects I have missed?