A stroll through the health aisle at the local supermarket will have one’s eyes glance upon a variety of different supplements marketed as if they were a necessity to live a healthy and fulfilling life. But how much do we really need these supplements, and are they worth the money we’re paying for them?
In 2019 alone, the vitamin and supplement industry in the U.S. have made about $32 billion from sales of different supplements. These products include vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, sports nutrition, meal supplements and specialty products.
All supplements sold in the U.S. are under the regulation of the Food and Drug Administration. Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, the “FDA is responsible for taking action against any adulterated or misbranded dietary supplement product after it reaches the market.” How many of the supplements in stores are really necessary?
“I don’t usually eat enough fruits and vegetables on a regular basis, so I take a multivitamin in order to get those vitamins and minerals that I’m missing out on,” said Matthew Gillies, a junior aerospace engineering student. “It’s a quick way to get those necessary vitamins in your diet that I would be getting if I were to eat more fruits and vegetables. A doctor recommended it more when I was younger, and so I’ve kept up with it. I’ve been taking one since I was about 6 years old.”
Multivitamins are the most common type of supplements taken in the world. The majority of multivitamins contain different types of vitamin B, vitamin C, vitamin K and an assortment of different minerals, including zinc, calcium and magnesium.
Vitamins can be categorized into two different groups - water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins. Vitamins A, D, E and K are the fat-soluble vitamins, meaning any excess amounts of these four vitamins are absorbed into the body through fatty tissue. The other vitamins are water-soluble, so any excess amounts of these vitamins will simply be excreted from the body through urine.
The majority of physicians recommend fixing one’s diet before falling back on supplements to fix a lack of necessary vitamins and minerals. For example, a well-balanced diet including the necessary amounts of certain vitamins and minerals completely eradicates the need for purchasing any supplements.
“The majority of healthy patients who eat a balanced diet do not need to take a multivitamin, and thus the majority of patients who take one do not need to do so,” said Dr. Kevin Moynahan, an internist at Banner University Medical Center — Tucson. “For the majority of healthy individuals who eat a balanced diet, a daily multivitamin is not needed. Before deciding to take a daily multivitamin, people should talk to their physician or healthcare provider about their current diet and medical conditions.”
What makes taking supplements so attractive to the majority of people? The convenience of just taking a pill once or twice daily to fulfill their health needs can appeal to many. However, some people don’t think this form of diet intervention is really necessary to live a healthy life.
“I just never needed to use them,” said Faiz Rafique, a senior computer science student. “The food I eat has plenty enough nutrition for me, so I have never needed extra vitamins to make me feel better.”
Vitamins can be necessary for some people who are unable to get the majority of necessary vitamins and minerals from their diet. For example, a lack of access to proper nutrition can make taking a multivitamin very important.
“Examples of conditions or situations in which a multivitamin should be considered include alcoholism, poor-quality diets that do not contain fruits and vegetables, patients who have had a gastric bypass procedure, malabsorption and consuming a vegan diet,” said Moynahan. “Patients with osteopenia or osteoporosis may benefit from calcium supplementations (if their diet contains less than 1200 mg of calcium) and vitamin D supplementation.”
The decision to take supplements is an important decision for one’s health. Speak to a health care provider before deciding to take this form of intervention into your daily life.
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