Are you and your vitamins meant to be friends forever?
If you are anything like me, the ever-growing vitamin and mineral section of the pharmacy or supermarket is nothing short of confusing.
It seems that every second celebrity in Australia currently has an endorsement deal for a multivitamin, but it’s not as if you can turn to your favourite hot celebrity to ask for their personal recommendation on the best vitamin to take.
This is not surprising as the vitamin industry is worth an estimated billion dollars in Australia alone. Despite this, the big question that still remains is whether vitamin and mineral supplements actually work.
Unfortunately there is a harsh reality looming that may suggest that many of us may simply be flushing our hard-earned dollars spent on various vitamins and minerals down the loo. Literally.
If we think back to the days of Captain Cook and sailors diagnosed with scurvy after months and months without access to fresh food, vitamin supplementation has been used clinically for hundreds of years to correct various vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Today various dietary supplements can be found in hundreds of different mixtures and concoctions, ranging from simple individual nutrients such as Vitamin B or zinc or as formulations of positive lifestyle mixes such as the “anti-stress” or a “rest and restore” nighttime sleeping aids.
This has kept the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) busy trying to regulate the claims and advertising associated with supplements. Now while such miracle pills may sound like the perfect addition to your attempts to achieve perfect health and longevity, unfortunately the jury is still out on whether or not vitamin and mineral supplements improve health, wellness and lifespan.
There’s a surprising lack of scientific findings to show that supplementing the diet with specific nutrients improves health outcomes long-term. And there are even some papers that show supplementation may actually reduce lifespan (although this is an association only and more likely linked to poor dietary habits underlying the need to take the vitamins in the first place, rather than the vitamins themselves).
When it comes to certain diseases including cancer, evidence to support vitamin supplementation as part of a treatment option is also surprisingly lacking.
In fact, in some cases, vitamin and mineral supplementation is actually not advised. Various early studies found the aggressive supplementation of antioxidant rich vitamins actually made some conditions worse. Sure, a good diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables is protective against certain disease states but unfortunately it seems not these nutrients in isolation.
While this may sound somewhat disappointing as we all seek ways to be healthier and live longer, in individual cases, vitamin and mineral supplementation may be necessary.
Vitamin D deficiency is relatively common in Australia (which you also need to take with fat to be absorbed properly, by the way) as are low iron levels both of which require active supplementation to restore the levels required in the body for optimal physiological functioning.
The same can be said for fish oil and there is nothing wrong with some Vitamin B or C for a boost when you are not feeling 100%.
The issue with vitamin and mineral supplementation is over-doing things. We take multiple supplements, not knowing exactly what we are taking in what doses or how these nutrients may be interacting if they are taken in high doses.
While a general multivitamin is likely to pose no risk and may even act as a safeguard against a poor dietary intake, it isn’t the case that more is better.
This is particularly true when we start to pop more than a few different multivitamin pills, on top of our fortified breakfast cereals and various shakes and powders that already might contain a range of vitamins and minerals. While we may be trying our best to be healthy, what is actually happening is that we are ingesting really large doses of key nutrients that we really only need in small amounts, and we do not know if this is safe into the future.
So check what you’re taking. A single multivitamin or shake isn’t an issue.
But if you are ingesting large volumes of these nutrients and supplements throughout the course of the day, it is time to pay more attention to what you are ingesting.
If you still have questions, check your supplements with a dietitian or GP to make sure you are actually taking what you need in the right doses.
And when it comes to special formulations that promise that your stress will be alleviated, your sleep with be better and your whole life changed by taking a vitamin, keep in mind that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Even if Jennifer Hawkins says so.
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