Writing

  • Health – Are multivitamins a waste of time?

    Multivitamins are supposed to give our immune systems a boost and top up the vitamins our modern diets don’t provide, but scientists believe we’re wasting our time – and money – slugging them down.

    In South Africa, the vitamin and dietary supplement industry is worth an estimated R1-billion, up by a staggering 84 percent since 2005*. But are multivitamins really that helpful in keeping us healthy?

    Recently Emily Oster, professor in economics at the University of Chicago recently reviewed a number of studies and found that there is no evidence that multivitamins actually help improve our health, and that scientists can’t isolate the effects of vitamins from other factors, such as generally healthy diets and regular exercise.

    She specifically looked at the effect that taking extra Vitamins C, D and E has on our health. This magic trio of vitamins have been linked to everything from lowering risk of cardiovascular disease, weight gain, multiple sclerosis, fewer mood disorders and lower mortality rates. However, Oster points out that the studies claiming these benefits were largely observational studies which didn’t factor in other variables such as age and overall lifestyle, and randomised follow-up studies showed none of the claimed benefits.

    It doesn’t end there, a recent article in New York Magazine cites a study that revealed people who take daily multivitamins believe they’re doing their health such a favour that they can go out and partake in activities that are actually potentially more harmful for their health, such as heavy drinking.

    Psychologist Wray Hubert calls this “moral licensing” and compares it to the counter-productive sense of justification for a bad diet choice they make after they’ve exercised.

    All of this doesn’t take away from the fact that there are serious vitamin deficiencies such as scurvy and rickets that can cause serious problems. But these are extremes and you’re highly unlikely to get this level of deficiency if you live in a developed country and have access to a range of foods. So, unless you’ve been told by your doctor to take vitamins, you can probably ditch your daily dose.

    *Based on 2005 figures with conservative forecasted growth taken into account.

     

    This article was featured on iafrica.com – see link below