Should You Take Vitamins?

The U.S. vitamin industry is thriving. More than half of all adults take vitamins regularly. This figure rises to 70% for those over 60.  The supplement business is estimated to take in $30B per year. But doctors warn against reliance on vitamins for good health, except in special cases.


There are some instances when supplements are recommended. For instance, women should take 400 micrograms of folic acid both before and during pregnancy, to prevent birth defects. In addition, people with lactose intolerance often need extra vitamin D and calcium because they can’t eat dairy products. Those with osteoporosis may also need extra vitamin D and calcium supplements. And people with vitamin B12 deficiency likely need extra dosing.


Except in cases of medical issues such as those above, doctors do not recommend taking vitamin supplements. Medical professionals suggest that you obtain vitamins and minerals from food, rather than from a pill.


The effects of vitamin supplement intake have been studied extensively. Studies show that vitamin supplements do not reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, or memory loss. Doctors say that instead of spending money on supplements, you should spend money on fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and low-fat dairy. Exercise is also recommended. Eating a balanced diet and eliminating fat, sodium, and sugar from your diet will do more to benefit your overall health than any supplements will.


More alarming than the established inefficacy of vitamins are their potentially harmful outcomes. For example, those who take high doses of beta-carotene are at greater risk for lung cancer. High doses of vitamin E can lead to brain bleeding and stroke. Excess calcium and vitamin D can result in kidney stones. Vitamin K can interfere with blood-thinning medications. And taking high doses of vitamin B6 over time can cause nerve damage.


It is important to note that supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so manufacturers are not required to prove the benefits of these products. Moreover, it is impossible to know whether there are contaminants in supplemental vitamins and minerals, or whether the pills actually contain the ingredients listed on the bottle.


There are special cases in which vitamin supplements are medically recommended or necessary. But by-and-large, supplements should not be used as a substitute for a healthy lifestyle. There is no quick fix for good health; staying active and maintaining a healthy diet, over time, is the key.

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