The number of myths surrounding supplements are mind boggling and it's time to set the record straight. One in three people in the UK take supplements and one thing is for sure, not all of them should be. Scarily 15 per cent of people turn to high-dose vitamin supplements for a quick-fix. Does this say something about our desire to be healthy or is it just a case of going for the easy option?
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 find solace in the fact that they are taking these supplements. 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 and this isn’t the case at all.
Myth 2: Vitamins supplements don’t go off
Check the use by date. Don’t be surprised if that container of vitamin C tablets that you had last winter is now out of date. Bin them if they are past the use by date.
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 slugging 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 you pop the better
Doubling the dosage 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 recommendation may lead to some minor side effects. Unless your doctor tells you that you need more than 100 percent of the recommended daily intake of a particular nutrient, you don't.
Myth 5: Vitamin supplements are always bad for you
Under medical supervision or if recommended by a medical professional, supplements can be a helpful addition to a balanced diet. Some people are left with little choice but to take supplements. Pernicious anaemia is a deficiency of vitamin B12 for example and the only way to ensure someone with the condition is getting adequate vitamin B12 is by getting an intravenous version. 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
Vitamins don’t replace calories or energy. If you are following a very low calorie diet you may be advised to take a vitamin supplement, but this is no swap for an adequate dietary intake. You can't forget about your protein, fibre, fat and carbohydrate requirements. After following a faddy low calorie diet you may notice your muscle tone weakening and you will probably end up feeling quite lethargic. This isn’t a long term solution to weight loss.
Myth 7: Vitamins work better on an empty stomach
Don’t take vitamins on an empty stomach. Vitamins are absorbed better 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 the pharmacist you shouldn’t need to worry about taking all your vitamins separately. This could end up very expensive. However if you have a deficiency in iron for example there is no point in buying a multivitamin supplement that gives you lots of additional vitamins you probably don't need to take.
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 the use of multivitamins was associated with a 2.4 per cent increased risk of death. In 2013 the revelation that omega-3 capsules were linked to high levels of prostate cancer was a shock for the 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, and then you can make an informed decision.
Please post any comments or questions below and I'll respond. Catherine Matthews, Senior Nutritionist