In the UK today, an estimated 1 in 3 people take vitamin supplements. With 15% of these using high-dose supplements as a nutritional ‘quick fix’ or to ‘balance’ unhealthy habits, does this say something about our desire to be healthy or is it just a case of going for the easy option?
There are many misconceptions surrounding vitamin supplements, some of which could be a threat to your health. Let’s look at these myths and set the record straight.
10 common myths about vitamin supplements
Myth 1: Vitamins cancel out a bad habit
Taking supplements doesn’t negate drinking or smoking, yet smokers and drinkers seem to believe that because they are taking these supplements, they are taking care of their health. Research published in the journal, Addiction found that smokers who take dietary supplements fool themselves into thinking they are protected against cancer and other diseases when this isn’t the case at all. Psychologists call this the licencing effect.
Myth 2: Vitamins supplements don’t go off
Check the use by date. You may be surprised to find that container of vitamin C tablets that you bought last winter is now out of date. Dispose of them responsibly if they are past the use by date.
Tip: Never pour vitamins or medication down the toilet or sink. Residue of these can remain in the water even having been through a treatment plant.
Myth 3: Vitamin supplements are a replacement for a healthy diet
If you eat well in most cases you shouldn't need supplements. Downing a few pills while you are knocking back a glass of coke and waiting for your Big Mac won’t do much good. A healthy diet contains many of the things you won't get from a vitamin supplement like fibre and energy. If you take vitamin supplements you should only do so as part of an overall healthy diet.
Myth 4: The more vitamins you take the better
Doubling the dosage of vitamins is pointless and can be dangerous. Follow the instructions and make sure you are using a reputable brand. If you aren’t sure how much to take, consult your doctor or a pharmacist. Taking more than the recommended dose may lead to some minor side effects. Unless your doctor tells you that you need more than 100% of the recommended daily intake of a particular nutrient, don't take any more than the stated dose.
Myth 5: Vitamin supplements are bad for you
When taken under medical supervision, vitamin supplements can be a helpful addition to a balanced diet. Some people with dietary issues are left with little choice but to take supplements. Pernicious anaemia, for example, is a deficiency of vitamin B12 and the only way to ensure someone with this condition is getting enough B12 is by getting an intravenous dosage. Women of child bearing age should also take a folate supplement while people at risk of osteoporosis are encouraged to take calcium supplements.
Myth 6: If you take vitamins you don’t need as much food
You can't forget about your protein, fibre, fat and carbohydrate requirements. Vitamins don’t replace calories or energy. Following faddy low calorie diets can weaken your muscle tone and you will probably end up feeling quite lethargic.
Myth 7: Vitamins work better on an empty stomach
Don’t take vitamins on an empty stomach. Vitamins are better absorbed when you eat them with food. A vitamin tablet needs to be broken down and taking it with food helps the process.
Myth 8: Organic vitamin supplements are better
The body can’t tell the difference between organic or synthetic vitamins. However, the food that the organic vitamins come from can give you fibre and other nutrients that synthetic vitamins may not manage.
Myth 9: Single source vitamins are better than multivitamins
As long as you use a good multivitamin supplement that’s recommended by your pharmacist you shouldn’t need to take all your vitamins separately. This could be very costly. If, for example, you have a deficiency in iron, there is no point in buying a multivitamin supplement that gives you lots of additional vitamins you probably don't need to take. Only take the supplements you need and get all other nutrients from eating healthy food.
Myth 10: Vitamins are safe as long as you buy them from a pharmacy
A new UK study has found that women taking calcium supplements at a certain level double their risk of heart disease. In 2011, the Iowa Women's Health Study of over 38,000 women found that the use of multivitamins was associated with a 2.4% increased risk of death. In 2013 the revelation that Omega-3 capsules were linked to high levels of prostate cancer was a shock for many people who take this supplement to ease joint pain, improve heart health and prevent Alzheimer’s. It’s important to be aware of all the risks and benefits so you can make an informed decision.