You only have to step inside of your local pharmacy or even grocery store to see the popularity of multivitamins. In all these locations today you can see shelves upon shelves of various multicolored and different sized bottles from any manufacturer of vitamins who can squeeze into that store space. But what is the deal really with all these vitamin and mineral products? Are we all to take them, both women and men, young and old? And if so, which ones and how much?
In this article, you will get quick and practical answers to these questions and more! And find out if the multivitamin mania is coming to a multi-end.
Before continuing on with this article I recommend that you read a previous article I wrote about an introduction to understanding vitamins and minerals. This article will give you a general background that is beneficial to reading and understanding the following article.
Brief Overview of Multivitamins
Multivitamin is a term applied by our society to preparations usually oral in liquid or pill form, that consist of various vitamins, minerals and other nutritional substances. Vitamins themselves have only been fully discovered throughout the early and mid 1900′s. Then as the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s progressed it was evident that life got busier and people were not eating properly and so commercially synthesized multivitamins made it onto the market scene.
Today, we continue to get bombarded by ads that advertise all sorts of products. The one I have to say is the saddest, is the latest slew of Centrum commercials, such as the one with an older lady gardening, and their main pitch being that when she doesn’t have time to eat properly she can rely on Centrum. I find this sad because these companies are hitting us where we are most vulnerable, yes many people are busy, but the answer is not a pill, but re-prioritizing your life so you DO have time to eat properly. I mean if you cannot even find time to eat properly, giving your body its main fuel to keep you healthy, then somewhere along the line we have gone really, really wrong. Eating regularly and healthy should be everybody’s primary goal, which brings me to the next section.
Should I be taking a regular multivitamin?
Well in most cases the answer is easy – No! Yes, you heard me, no. So now allow me to explain myself as to why I say that, as I know it is a different answer than most of us are used to. Below I compiled for you 6 reasons to back up this suggestion.
1. Too much of a good thing
Many of us today run out and religiously buy and take multivitamins, except we forget one big thing. Our foods today, that is if you live in most developed countries, are fortified with vitamins and minerals. Anything from cereals and granola bars, to pastas and even ready made frozen meals. And people, the name of the game is not “More is Better”! Remember what I said in the Guide to Vitamins and Minerals article, in the “Can I overdose on them” section, you can have too much of a good thing.
2. Eating a proper diet does not warrant the need for extra supplementation through multivitamins.
So your primary goal, no matter what, whether you work 8am to 8pm, or have 4 kids or 3 jobs, should be to find the time to eat properly – balanced and regular meals throughout the day. And if you are still sitting there reading this and saying, “Yeah easy for her to say, she does not know my situation” then I ask you to just think about this… “what will your situation be like when you get sick?”, whether it be small or big, think of how debilitating and worrisome that will be to “your” situation then. And maybe you already get a bout of those regular colds and flus regularly, where do you think that all comes from, other people? Yes, but only if your body is lacking its normal fighting defenses. If your body is in perfect working order, the whole world around you could be sick and you won’t get it. Don’t get me wrong, I do offer you my sympathy, whatever your case may be, but you have to realize your body MUST have a proper diet to function properly – not skipped meals, not quick fast food grabs and not quick pill fixes.
3. Stop wasting your money!
The average generic multivitamin today can cost around $10 per bottle and brand name ones fall in the teens. Now seeing that you can get everything you need from a proper diet, spend your money wisely on the right foods not pills.
4. Save your liver and kidneys!
Did you know that the majority of people taking multivitamins never asked or were recommended to do so by their doctor? So seeing such that many of us are self-medicating ourselves today, we should know that every multivitamin pill comes with non-medicinal additives that include artificial dyes/colors, preservatives and other chemicals depending on the company, that are a burden to your liver and kidneys. Your liver has to detoxify and your kidneys have the job of excreting these nasty compounds. Yes, companies will tell you that all these non-medicinal additives are safe seeing as they have been approved by the FDA or Health Canada, but in today’s times that does not tell you much. They still approve aspartame and its toxicity is now widely known as well as many other questionable substances.
5. You don’t get as much from a pill as you do from natural sources
Yes, the title says it all. Synthetic vitamins and minerals are not absorbed as readily by your body as when they come naturally from your food. So many people may advise you to take it, even if for just peace of mind that you are getting enough, but ultimately for this and the other reasons it is no longer a good answer. Your human body through all of its evolution obtained all of its needs naturally from diet. Therefore do not be surprised that it is not going to take as well to a synthetic form of a necessary nutrient.
6. Negative health effects linked to multivitamins
And finally the big one! Yes folks, the latest research to be coming out from studies published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (May 2007), the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center (December 2007) and recently from Harvard’s Men Health Watch (March 2008) is that there are cancer links associated with taking multivitamins. So if all of the above reasons are not enough to get you to think seriously about a proper diet instead of multivitamin supplements, I hope this one is.
The exact results from the studies are that there has been an increase in men’s prostate cancer and overall colorectal cancer rates since the 1990′s. Scientists have linked this to higher than normal folic acid levels as since the 1990′s our foods, mainly our cereals started getting fortified with folic acid and at the same time people have also been regularly taking multivitamins with folic acid. The culprit then for this finding is excessive fortification.
This goes back to my argument from number one, we get too many supplements today and we underestimate the power of vitamins and minerals in our bodies. And I suspect that these studies are just the first of their kind and there will be other negative links associated with multivitamin use. It just makes common sense and can not only be applied to this example but to any example of processed food. We need to return back to the natural state of things, and understand that advanced medical technology is not always the new and improved answer it appears to be.
Exceptions to multivitamin use
Now having said all of the above there are still a few groups out there who will benefit more from taking the multivitamin than not taking it (until proved otherwise of course) with the main group being pregnant women. Speaking of folic acid especially, it is no secret that folic acid has greatly helped to decrease birth defects such as those associated with the spinal cord, in babies of women who took higher than normal folic acid levels while being pregnant. And there are other benefits too.
The only other group of people who should be seeking some kind of supplementation would be those dealing with an extreme deficiency. As per your doctor’s advice you may have no say in such a matter, but always while you are getting back to a state of balance, take that time especially to work on a proper diet that can sustain your body properly and avoid you getting another deficiency in the future.
We all need vitamins and minerals for a properly working body, but hopefully you have seen in this article the importance of a healthy diet in obtaining those compounds naturally.
If for whatever reason, you absolutely must still take a multivitamin, at least remember to take it with food, not on an empty stomach, as to be metabolized properly these pills need nutritional enzymes that would only really get released during eating. This is especially important for the body to access the fat soluble vitamins. Otherwise you will not be getting any real benefit from the whole package and will ultimately be wasting your money and body. Also be sure to drink lots of water to help your kidneys flush out the leftovers. And finally taking them with or after a meal should also help you avoid nausea and other stomach upsets that have been linked to taking multivitamins on an empty stomach.
And as for the future of multivitamins, don’t expect them to disappear anytime soon. I do however predict a sharp decrease in their popularity due to the recent studies and due to more people evolving to understand the importance of the natural ways in maintaining optimal health.