Do We Really Need to Take Our Vitamins?

Couldn't we just get all the nutrients we need from food?


We are a nation obsessed with vitamins, says Catherine Price, author of Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest For Nutritional Perfection. Despite what Dr. Oz may say, there is no magic pill; vitamins are not the all-in-one wellness solution they've been made out to be.

“Most of the things we take vitamins for don’t have much evidence behind them,” she said in an interview with PRI. “There isn’t convincing [research] showing that multivitamins will do much beyond healing serious deficiency diseases.”

Vitamins are important for nutrition, which prevent us from getting horrible diseases, like scurvy. But taking a pill to compensate for nutritional imbalance is a thing of the past--we have all the nutrition we need in our food, even our chips are enriched with nutrients. The trouble starts when consumers believe the "additional benefits" their supplemental vitamins provide. "Vitamin B12--it boosts cognition!" a label might say, but the research shows that's nothing more than snake-oil salesmanship. But the worst cases are when the ingredients listed on the "Supplement Facts" aren't even in the bottle, which is what the New York attorney general's office found out earlier this year.

The New York Times reported on a series of herbal supplements sold by GNC, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart--all put under scientific review. The researchers found what was in these little capsules was far from what the label on the bottle claimed. Some even contained traces of peanuts and soybeans, which could cause harmful allergic reactions.

So, how can people pushing these supplements get away with this false labeling? Well, according to the FDA's website, it has little control over the issue. It notes that “unlike drug products that must be proven safe and effective for their intended use before marketing, there are no provisions in the law for FDA to ‘approve’ dietary supplements ... before they reach the consumer.”

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver did a great deep dive into the topic. Skip forward to 5:20 to get to the meatier part of the story. (Warning: There is some use of strong language that some may find objectionable.)

Some supplements may very well contain what they advertise, but are they really necessary? Price says we may be over-thinking our nutritional needs.

She explains:

“If you’re worried about getting adequate nutrients, look at your diet. Just make sure you get some orange juice once in a while.”

Read more about Price's assessment of our vitamin-crazed culture at PRI.

Photo Credit: JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN / Stringer/ Getty

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