There’s a pill for just about everything nowadays; weight loss, boosting metabolism, sleeping, prevention of ageing and boosting fertility. Finding out which supplements are evidence based and which are a waste of your money can be difficult and there’s a very large grey area. So, which side do multivitamins lie on?
Let’s be honest, we all wish we could eat anything we like all day and pop a pill before going to bed that will provide us with all our nutritional requirements and erase all our sins. But unfortunately that is not quite how it works. Yes, most multivitamin supplements will contain all your vitamin and mineral requirements for the day, but food is about so much more than that. Other bioactive compounds such as antioxidants, flavonoids, and polyphenols in healthy food are vital to our health and wellbeing, too. And these can’t all be provided for in just one pill.
Food and nutrients also interact with each other in unique ways when it comes to digestion and absorption. This is why mixing minerals and vitamins together in an unregulated manner can affect the absorption of other nutrients. For example, calcium in high amounts will affect the absorption of iron. Also, large quantities of iron will prevent zinc absorption, and so on. So unless you have a specific deficiency, taking a specific vitamin or mineral supplement without supervision might be doing more harm than good. Too much of a good thing is not always better.
So, does that mean vitamin and mineral supplements are always useless? Of course not! There is a place and time for everything.
- If you have a clinically defined nutrient deficiency you need to supplement it, under the supervision of a doctor or health professional.
- If you are vegan or vegetarian you need to make sure you are taking a vitamin B12 supplement, which is present only in animal foods. B12 is important for the healthy functioning of the nervous system and it also helps prevent anaemia.
- During pregnancy both our diet and requirements for nutrients change. This decrease in food intake especially at the start with an increase in requirements makes taking prenatal vitamins a smart choice at this special time. The most important nutrient during early pregnancy and also before you become pregnant is folic acid. Make sure you are supplementing with at 400 mcg daily.
In conclusion, vitamin and mineral supplements are sometimes necessary in specific cases, but to the generally healthy individual they don’t offer any meaningful health benefits. Most studies are proving that multivitamins are, at best, an expensive placebo. Focusing on the quality of your diet, exercising, and mental wellness and adapting a whole lifestyle approach to health will do you a lot more good than taking a colourful pill each day.