With over half of Americans regularly taking them, it is clear that multivitamins are believed to be a quick fix for an unhealthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, this is not the reality. In fact, nearly every study done on multivitamins has shown that the supplements do nothing to prevent disease or boost your overall health. So where do we get the idea that we need multivitamins?
Are vitamin supplements necessary?
While it is true that a prolonged deficiency of certain vitamins will lead to illness and disease, this does not mean that vitamin supplements are necessary for healthy individuals. For people who are already eating a diet that is rich with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, they are likely already surpassing their recommended daily intake of all of the necessary vitamins. And even for people who maybe aren’t eating as many fruits and vegetables as they should, many types of processed foods, such as cereal, are also fortified with vitamins and minerals to increase your daily intake as well.
Therefore, taking vitamin supplements when you are already eating well or consuming fortified foods, may be causing you to reach vitamin levels that are much higher than the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and NIH (National Institute of Health) recommend.
Is it possible to overdose on vitamins?
If you are at increased risk for vitamin deficiency because of a preexisting medical condition or an extremely poor diet, considering supplementing with a multivitamin may not be a bad idea, if suggested by your doctor. However, if you are otherwise healthy and have no reason to suspect a vitamin deficiency, then the drawbacks of multivitamins will easily outweigh the benefits. Since multivitamins often contain 100% or more of your recommended daily values for vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and calcium, you would not need these supplements unless you are not planning on consuming any food whatsoever.
Overdosing on vitamins is similar to taking an antibiotic every day in an attempt to ward off future infections. This just-in-case mentality doesn’t work for antibiotics, since bacteria will develop antibiotic resistance, and it doesn’t work for multivitamins either.
Can multivitamins actually be bad for you?
Even though vitamins are technically good for us, in this case, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Recent studies have shown that some individuals who took daily supplements actually had an increased mortality rate rather than decreased. Additionally, other studies have found that multivitamin supplements have been linked to an increased risk for certain types of cancer as well. For example, too much vitamin A has been shown to increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers by almost 30%.
Just like necessary medications used for treatment, vitamins can and should be prescribed under certain circumstances, such as pregnancy or a vitamin deficiency. However, for healthy adults, vitamin supplements have no real benefits and should not be treated as your nutritional insurance plan—especially considering the risk of potential health risks that comes with consuming too much of any given vitamin.