Multivitamins, the modern magic potions
Multivitamins, an expensive way to flush money away.
Previously we spoke about boosting the immune system and how supplementations have little effect in healthy people. A common example is vitamin supplementation. Vitamins are molecules that are required for a variety of metabolic functions in your body.
Vitamin A: light sensitive pigments in eyes, needed for vision, deficiency can cause night blindness
Vitamin B: 1-12, many different roles including DNA synthesis. Deficiency of some can cause anaemia.
Vitamin C: an important molecule and antioxidant, used in many reactions including protein synthesis, wound healing and making connective tissue, deficiency can cause scurvy
Vitamin D: our bodies can produce, needed in managing body calcium and bone strength
Vitamin E: various roles, deficiency is very rare
Vitamin K: important role in clotting
Looking at the list above and the diseases caused by deficiencies, these vitamins seem to be quite important to our bodyâ€™s functioning. And of course, we should aim to have them in our diet. So, should we do our best to boost vitamin levels by taking multivitamins?
Not exactly. If you maintain a healthy, varied diet, you should be able to receive your daily requirements for vitamins quite easily. In fact, your body is very good at maintaining control of the levels of vitamins in the body, since vitamin excess can in itself be a problem.
If your body stores of vitamins are well maintained, excess vitamins are either removed in your urine (B and C) or stored in the fat around your body (A, D, E, K). This means that when taking multivitamins, you may literally be flushing your money down the toilet. Of course, with the fat-soluble vitamins, storing in excess can lead to disease states in itself. Hypervitaminosis A can cause a number of problems, including blurry vision, drowsiness, nausea and vomiting, but serious complications can lead to liver damage, weakening of the bones and subsequent calcium excess.
Vitamin C used to be advocated to prevent the common cold. And during the current pandemic, taking supplementation to prevent coronavirus infections may seem beneficial. However, a Cochrane review (a very thorough, high level, unbiased study looking at hundreds of studies on one particular subject) showed there to be little effect on preventing the cold and had minimal effects on the duration and severity. They found that routine vitamin C supplementation is not justified.
Of course, there are some conditions in which you may require supplementation. Anaemia is a common one. Anaemia means you have a low blood count, so the transport of oxygen to your organs can be reduced. Common symptoms include light-headedness when standing up, palpitations and shortness of breath when trying to exert yourself, and pale lips and fingers. In this case your doctor may run some blood tests to look at your Vitamin B12 levels, and supplement if necessary. In pregnancy vitamin B12 and folic acid supplements may be given to help the body make more red blood cells, so the woman does not experience any symptoms of anaemia.
So, the conclusion is simple isnâ€™t it. The simplest way to manage your vitamins is a good, healthy diet, vitamin supplementation is usually a waste of money, and you should take vitamin supplements based on your doctorâ€™s advice only.
Well, except for Vitamin D. Which deserves its own blog.
Dr Rajan Choudhary, UK, Chief Product Officer, Second Medic Inc