Vitamins and Supplements – Common Misconceptions

Vitamins play an important role in keeping the body healthy, but there are many misconceptions about vitamins and the health benefits they offer. However, taking large doses of certain vitamins can be harmful. It is best to get the vitamins our bodies need from eating a variety of healthy, unprocessed foods rather than by taking supplements.

Vitamin supplements are frequently misused and taken without professional advice. They are often used as a form of medicine to treat ailments such as colds or to counteract lifestyle issues such as stress. Contrary to popular belief, vitamins are not drugs or miracle cures. They are organic compounds that take part in various metabolic functions.

Proper balance and adequate levels of essential nutrients are important for a range of complex processes in our body. When vitamins are taken as supplements, they are introduced into the body at levels that could never be achieved by eating even the healthiest of diets.

Simply taking a vitamin pill is not an instant fix for feeling run down or lacking in energy. It is the combination of a whole range of compounds in plant foods that gives us the protection.

Many people mistakenly believe that since small amounts of vitamins are good for you, then large amounts must be better. With vitamins, it is better to follow the rule of ‘less is more’.

For a healthy adult, if supplements are used, they should generally be taken at levels close to the recommended dietary intake. We should not take high-dose supplements unless recommended under medical advice.

Supplements do have a role to play for people on long-term restrictive weight loss diets or people with malabsorption problems, such as diarrhea, coeliac disease, cystic fibrosis or pancreatitis.

Folic acid supplements are strongly recommended for women planning a pregnancy to reduce the risk of having a baby with neural tube defects, like spina bifida.

Many people think that vitamin C helps prevent the common cold. Despite exhaustive research across the world, there is still no strong evidence to prove this.

Some vitamin and omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies can lead to emotional disturbances. However, if you are feeling run down, it is more likely to be due to stress, depression or unhealthy lifestyle habits, rather than a vitamin deficiency.

Vitamin E is widely promoted as a beneficial antioxidant that can help prevent heart disease. Unfortunately, several large-scale reviews have conclusively found no evidence that vitamin E supplements prevent death from heart disease.

Vitamin E is often singled out as the potential fountain of youth. However, there is no evidence that taking large doses of any vitamin can either stall or reverse the effects of aging.

Vitamin A in large doses does not cure cancer and can be toxic, particularly if taken as pills rather than food.

If you need to take a supplement, it is best to take multivitamins at the recommended dietary level, rather than a single nutrient supplements or high-dose multivitamins.