Health Medical Pharma

Multivitamins are an expensive indulgence, have limited benefits, says research

HQ Team

September 21, 2022: The age-old debate of “to have or not to have” vitamins persists, with some calling them essential supplements and others expensive placebos.

Experts, nutritionists, and doctors are divided in their opinions on the subject. Despite that, vitamins are pretty popular. The Vitamins & Minerals market is globally experiencing significant growth after the COVID-19 pandemic. The global market witnessed an increase of around 6% in 2020. India is third in revenue generated in this market, with $2100 million behind China and the United States.

So what is the truth about vitamins?

Here we attempt to present a picture of the validity of claims from both sides.

A recent study says that taking multivitamins staves off dementia. According to findings published on September 14 in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, taking a multivitamin was associated with maintaining cognitive health in older adults.

But the WHO says there’s no evidence that vitamin B, vitamin E, multivitamins, or fish oil supplements help reduce the risk for dementia. The agency recommends against using supplements as a means to ward off cognitive decline.

Another research published recently by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital — affiliated with the prestigious Harvard University — warned vitamin D and omega-3 supplements do not play any role in preventing a physical decline in the ageing.

Dr JoAnn Manson, the lead author, said: ‘The new findings are an important reminder that dietary supplements are not miracle pills or elixirs of youth.’ 

Dr Michael Gaziano and team of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, concluded that, while the likelihood of harm from taking the pills is small, so is the benefit. The study gave multivitamins or a placebo to 15,000 male doctors for a decade. The results were mixed, with the participants reporting a moderate reduction in cataract and cancer rates among doctors taking the supplements, but no effect on heart health or brain power was noticed. 

However, some argue that there are benefits — as the doctors taking tablets were eight per cent less likely to have cancer. 

Most medical professionals maintain that pills are ‘not a shortcut to better health and the prevention of chronic diseases’. They emphasise that staying healthy with a nutritious diet is beneficial in avoiding most chronic diseases.

Another study published in the British Medical Journal in 2020 found that multivitamin benefits are all in the head. Of the 20,000 participants, nearly 5000 reported popping multivitamins regularly and felt their health was 30 per cent better than those with no intake. But regular examination revealed that they were at no less risk of developing chronic diseases than others. People who took the pills just felt that they were healthier (in their heads).

Are Vitamins Harmful?

Experts feel that multivitamins are often seen as safety nets by individuals to indulge in an unhealthy lifestyle.

There are times when over intake of Vitamins A, D and E can damage organ health, and Vitamin E is known to interact dangerously with blood thinning medicines.

Benefits of Taking Multivitamins

Despite this overwhelming research of little benefit, there are believers and even some evidence that multi-vitamins help.

In a controlled study by Wake Forest School of Medicine, where over 2000 65 plus participants were given either a multivitamin, multivitamin and cocoa extract supplement, just a cocoa supplement or a placebo every day for three years, it was found that cognitive decline slowed down by 60 per cent in those taking multivitamins.

Populations across the world do not have access to a balanced and nutritious diet, and vitamin supplements can make a huge difference in health standards.

Folic acid is recommended for pregnant women; iron supplements are recommended for pregnant women from poor strata of society as most are anaemic. Vitamin D is required by some who stay in cold countries for better bone health.

Testing Standards

Doctors note that multivitamins do benefit some people in some conditions in some amounts. However, scientists are yet to figure out the optimal amount of vitamins each person needs due to each individual’s metabolic and physical differences.

But most multivitamins are a hotch-potch of nutrients that aren’t based on clinical research, and some combinations are counter-productive and harmful. The testing standards for supplements in the market are not stringent, and even the most popular brands fail to pass the minimum standards test. Manufacturers are able to pass them as wonder drugs with very little hard scientific evidence because they qualify as ‘food products’ rather than medicines.

For the vast majority of people, eating a healthy balanced diet should provide all the vitamins and minerals the body needs to function.

Remember to consult your doctor before starting any vitamin pills.

Recommended Nutritious Diet

• Eat a mix of vegetables and fruits every day

• 30 grams of fibre a day

• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks), choosing lower fat and lower sugar options

• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins 

• Drink a minimum 8 cups/glasses of water a day/ restrict salt intake

• Do not cut out carbohydrates from your diet

Image by Macrovector on Freepik

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *