There have been a lot of articles as of late about how we are wasting our money on vitamins and how they are simply a source for very expensive urine. I’m here to provide the necessary education that will enable you to make your own decisions about the topic. After all, knowledge is power!
Science backing the use of vitamins:
Personally, I have to see the scientific proof about an ingredient prior to taking it myself or recommending it to a patient. I want to be able to stand behind what I preach and have evidence to back me up. Luckily, there’s a lot of research being completed within the field of nutrition. Have a look at just a few:
- Vitamin D and calcium supports bone growth and strength, prevents falls and reduces fracture risk and is beneficial in the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis1,2.
- Prenatal vitamins (including folic acid, iron and calcium) are known to prevent neural tube defects, reduce risk of preterm labour and support fetal growth and development.
- Zinc, vitamin C and probiotics are seen to decrease the duration and severity of the common cold3,4,5.
- B vitamins and folic acid play a vital role in the prevention of heart disease6.
To address the fact that some vitamins are water soluble vs. fat soluble, speak to your healthcare provider or pharmacist about when and how you should be taking your vitamins in order to get the best out of them. For instance, zinc should be taken with food to avoid a stomach upset and vitamin D should be taken via gel cap or liquid as it’s best absorbed in this form.
Taking vitamins cancels out a poor diet?
It’s a pretty common misconception that if you’re taking a multi-vitamin, a super-green product, or another nutritious supplement, you can cut back on eating healthy. DON’T BELIEVE IT. Vitamins are also known as supplements for a reason – they are to supplement a healthy diet.
Even the best vitamins are not going to provide the fibre needed for maintain healthy cholesterol levels and promote healthy bowel movements, or the fat needed for hormone production and to provide a source of energy. Even if you are taking the most scientifically proven, expensive and sought after vitamin, you will never feel as good as you do when you’re following a well-balanced, whole foods based diet (i.e. non-processed, fruit, vegetables, lean meat, whole wheat, etc.).
Whole foods work together in a synergistic way to provide your system with the necessary carbohydrates, fats and protein that your body needs to maintain health. Just don’t be afraid to add a supplement when needed to optimize your wellbeing!
Image credit: Wikipedia
Safety of vitamins:
Just because something is natural, does not mean it’s safe. Think about these, for example:
- Atropa belladona (Deadly Nightshade, it’s even in its name!) is a beautiful leafy plant with black berries, however, it is also extremely toxic and often lethal.
- Papaver somniferum (Poppy) is the main source of opium, the substance used to create some of our strongest pain killers, including morphine and codeine.
- Vitamin A in high doses during pregnancy can lead to birth defects.
As can be noticed above, many of our supplements come from the same plants that are used to make or are related to some of the most common pharmaceuticals. For this reason, it is very important that you speak to your medical professional and pharmacist prior to starting a supplement, as it may interact with your current medication or create complications to a pre-existing medical condition.
Image credit: Wikipedia
Conclusion: Do your research
Scientific literature gives evidence that supplementing with vitamins and minerals are an essential part of our heath. Research has advised us that we can improve our wellbeing by taking vitamins in conjunction to a healthy diet. HOWEVER, don’t fall into health gimmicks that have no scientific backing to them. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
There is no all-in-one meal replacement superfood nutritional shake. Look into the ingredients! Is that protein bar actually filled with sugary junk and fillers? Probably. My best advice is for you to do your research, or see a health professional that will do it for you, prior to starting a new supplement. Don’t be afraid to question what is being recommended to you, whether it be from a doctor’s office or health food store. You should know what you’re putting in your body.
Image credit: Wikipedia
About the author: Tara Hambley @tarahambley
I am a Canadian trained Naturopathic Doctor currently living and gaining international experience in the United Kingdom. I remain involved in education by lecturing at the British College of Nutrition and Health (through the University of Greenwich) in the topics of anatomy, physiology, pathology and nutrition. In addition, I provide nutritional consultations for rugby and football teams throughout Essex. My clinical areas of focus include health promotion, disease prevention, athletic performance and injury rehabilitation. Follow me on Twitter @tarahambley to keep updated with what’s trending in the field of health and wellbeing.
- Tang, B, Eslick GD, Nowson C, Smith, C and A Bensoussan. Use of calcium or calcium in combination with vitamin D supplementation to prevent fractures and bone loss in people aged 50 years and older: a meta-analysis. The Lancet 2007 Aug; 370(9588): 657-666.
- Federman DG, Kirsner RS and SA Stechschulte. Vitamin D: Bone and Beyond, Rationale and Recommendations for Supplementation. The American Journal of Medicine 2009 Sept; 122(9): 793-802.
- Marshall, S. Zinc gluconate and the common cold. Review of randomized controlled trials. The College of Family Physicians of Canada 1998 May; 44: 1037-1042.
- Douglas RM, Hemilä H, D’Souza R, Chalker EB and B Treacy. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2004: CD000980.pub2.
- Ji, YJ, Hwang IH, Kim SY and EJ Kang. The Effect of Probiotics on Prevention of Common Cold: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trial Studies. The Korean Academy of Family Medicine 2013 Jan; 34(1): 2-10.
- Motulsky AG, Beresford SAA and GS Omenn. Preventing Coronary Heart Disease: B Vitamins and Homocysteine. American Heart Association 1998; 97: 421-424.