Vitamins – beneficial or a way to make expensive urine?

vitamin pillsIt’s said that politics and religion shouldn’t be discussed in polite company. You can add whether vitamins are beneficial to that list if you hang out with folks that are passionate about health and well-being.

On one side of the equation, there are folks that believe that vitamin supplementation will help you recover from exercise faster, boost your immune system and make you feel “better”. But opponents say you don’t need to take vitamin supplements if you eat a well-balanced diet.

So, what’s the truth – are you making yourself healthier by taking vitamins or simply producing very expensive urine?

Before I start, I’m not going to cover special cases such as people who live with specific conditions that require they take supplements for medical reasons.

My research method for this post was simple. I entered “are multivitamins beneficial” into a search engine. I was really hoping to find some science that offered a view that vitamins are a good thing. After all, there’s a multi-billion dollar industry out there that relies on the efficacy of these supplements. Surely all those companies can’t be lying.

According to a number of studies (three of which are cited at Experts: Don’t Waste Your Money on Multivitamins via WebMD) there are no benefits in taking vitamin supplements. It’s important to note these were all longitudinal studies of large populations.

In other words, they aren’t general “I feel better” anecdotes. They look at real benefits over a long period of time.

Another article, this one published by Forbes (The Top Five Vitamins You Should Not Take) looked at a number of studies that investigated the use of Vitamin C as a way of improving immunity over the common cold.

Again, the evidence says there’s no benefit in taking Vitamin C for that purpose.

Even good old Vitamin E fails scientific analysis. The Forbes article quotes a study on the effects of Vitamin E on 35,533 men that found that the risk of cancer increased for men taking vitamin E. A larger review done at Johns Hopkins University, Edgar Miller and Lawrence Appel found that the overall risk of death was higher in people who took vitamin E.

The Better Health service, run by my local state government, provided this advice.

  • Taking large doses of vitamins can be harmful because your body only needs vitamins in very tiny amounts.
  • Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and cereals will give your body the vitamins it needs, at the right level and in the right balance.
  • Vitamin supplements can’t replace a healthy diet, but a general multivitamin may help if your diet is inadequate.

So, if you eat a balanced diet, you won’t need to take vitamin supplements.

I’ve been thinking about taking a multivitamin for the last few weeks to supplement my diet. It’s coming into cold and flu season here and I’m increasing my training volume and intensity. As a result, I’ve got a cold brewing and I wanted to get ahead of it so I don’t miss any training sessions as I’m in marathon preparation now.

However, I’ve decided to make some changes to my diet first, increasing the volume of vegetables and fruit I eat each day. And I’m going to try to get to bed earlier so that my body has more time to rest and recover. That seems, based on the evidence I’ve read to be a more sensible approach.

What’s your view? Do vitamin supplements help you in a measurable way or are they a way to produce expensive urine?

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