Do I really need to take multivitamins?
‘A MODERN DIET DOES NOT PROVIDE ENOUGH’
‘MOST RESEARCH ON MULTIVITAMINS IS BIASED’
YES says Patrick Holford, best- selling author of The Optimum Nutrition Bible and member of the Orthomolecular Hall of Fame
Vitamins and minerals assist the body’s basic functions, and the only way to get enough in our diets is through supplementation. Before supermarkets and mass-farming techniques were introduced, the average diet consisted of fresh, organic food with high levels of nutrients. That’s not the case any more. In fact, one study on the average Victorian working class diet found it was so rich in micronutrients that nowadays the only way we can hope to compete is by using multivitamin supplements.
The optimal intake of vitamin C, for example – which fights infections, lowers risk of disease and boosts immunity – is around 1g per day. You would have to eat around 20 oranges to get that much, and most people only consume onetenth of a gram each day. Likewise, with bone-strengthening vitamin D, it’s impossible to get enough from diet and sunlight (particularly in Britain).
These deficiencies are further exacerbated by the stresses on the body that frequent workouts cause. Muscles relax and contract by using calcium and magnesium, energy is made using vitamins B and C, and the byproducts of energy creation are detoxified using antioxidants. Therefore, it makes sense that a higher intake of nutrients results in better athletic performance.
Vitamins and minerals are required for every function the human body performs, from making energy to building muscle, keeping immunity strong and staying free from disease. The modern diet simply does not provide high enough amounts, so supplementation is essential, especially for those who exercise. he gold standard of clinical trial evidence does not support using multivitamin supplements in chronic disease prevention. What’s more, the idea that the more micronutrients we have in our diets, the better, is false.
For example, selenium is found in most multivitamin supplements because of its antioxidant properties. However, when you obtain selenium from natural foods its effectiveness is optimised, and there’s no physiological evidence that suggests additional selenium supplementation will increase your body’s antioxidant potential.
Most research on multivitamin supplements is financially driven and therefore biased. Plus, studies are carried out on the well-fed Western population. To tell us something of worth, clinical trials should be conducted in, say, sub-Saharan
NO says Dr Saverio Stranges, associate professor of cardiovascular epidemiology at the University of Warwick and consultant physician in public health medicine
TAfrica where there are macronutrient deficiencies.
If anything, evidence shows potential adverse effects of vitamin supplements. One study on vitamin E and selenium was stopped after people taking the former experienced higher cancer risks and those taking the latter experienced increased risks in regards to diabetes. A number of studies from Johns Hopkins University in the US show similar risks from high doses of vitamin A and vitamin E supplements. It’s frightening when supplement manufacturers ignore this research for financial benefit.
The bottom line is – with the possible exception of vitamin D – you probably get enough micronutrients from diet. Topping up with multivitamins will burn a hole in your pocket at best, and negatively affect your health at worse.