The other day, I was having lunch with a friend who works in the health field. She said, “I’ve got a blog topic for you. A coworker of mine says that multi-vitamins are bad for your health and can cause serious problems. She says there’s tons of research that supports this. I’d be curious to see what you think.”
Honestly, this was the first time I heard this. As a child raised on Flintstones vitamins, I was surprised to hear that anyone would criticize the beloved multi-vitamin. So, today, we’re going to take a look at what’s out there and decide: Are multi-vitamins bad for your health?
It All Starts with Free Radicals.
Just so you know, chemistry was my worst subject in school, so I’m going to simplify the heck out of this section.
An important scientist named Linus Pauling decided that we should consume extra vitamin C in order to stay healthy. Because Pauling had made several notable discoveries, shaped modern chemistry, and won a Nobel Prize; people were inclined to believe him.
The reason Pauling loved vitamin C is because it’s an antioxidant that can neutralize free radicals. Antioxidants are molecules that accept electrons from free radicals. When this happens, the free radical quits being a threat.
In Pauling’s opinion, free radicals were these sort of wild cards floating through the body and causing things such as disease and aging. If the free radicals were neutralized, surely this would end any destruction within the body and allow people to live a long, healthy life.
It’s important to understand that vitamin C isn’t the only vitamin that neutralizes free radicals. For this reason, other people became enthusiastic about other vitamins.
Some Say Yes, Multi-Vitamins Are Bad.
The problem is that neutralizing free radicals can be really damaging to your body. Think of it this way, free radicals are kind of similar to the natural bacteria that you have within your body. Just as the bacteria serves its purpose to help your body function correctly, so do free radicals.
Free Radicals vs. Infection
Free radicals serve many functions within your body. When bad bacteria enter your body and infection begins, your body starts to generate free radicals. Once the offending bacteria is trapped, the free radicals are called into action to kill the bacteria.
In my head, this is all like a bar fight in a movie. A bad guy does something to you, and your friends start yelling at him and kind of get him cornered. Then, your crazy friend, the free radical, steps up and finishes him. Boom!
Free Radicals Prevent Cancer
Free radicals also serve as messengers between cells. In part, the job of a free radical is to stay with a certain cell and let it know when it’s supposed to do things like divide or even die. If there is no one there to regulate when a cell should divide and when it should die, the cell could just keep growing and dividing.
Do you know what that is when cells just grow and divide like crazy? That’s cancer.
Clinical Studies Say Certain Vitamins Increase Cancer
According to an article on BBC.com,
“In 1994, for example, one trial followed the lives of 29,133 Finish people in their 50s. All smoked, but only some were given beta-carotene supplements. Within this group, the incidence of lung cancer increased by 16%.
A similar result was found in postmenopausal women in the U.S. After 10 years of taking folic acid (a variety of B vitamin) every day their risk of breast cancer increased by 20% relative to those women who didn’t take the supplement.
It gets worse. One study of more than 1,000 heavy smokers published in 1996 had to be terminated nearly two years early. After just four years of beta-carotene and vitamin A supplementation, there was a 28% increase in lung cancer rates and a 17% increase in those who died.”
They had to end a study because too many people died while taking beta-carotene and vitamin A. That’s nuts!
In addition, a 2007 study from the National Cancer Institute showed that men who took multi-vitamins were twice as likely to die from prostate cancer as those who didn’t. Then, in 2011, a similar study found that men who took vitamin E and selenium supplements had a 17% increased chance of prostate cancer.
Other vitamins that are under scrutiny are vitamin D and calcium.
Some Say No, Multi-Vitamins Are Good.
People believe in the power of vitamins. Right now, my kids and I take multi-vitamins, and I even take additional vitamins on top of that. I take vitamins to help the bones in my neck stay strong (because I broke it June 2017), and I take herbs to help regulate my female hormones.
When I start to get a cold, I take Zinc. Before my kids and I come visit, my folks take extra vitamin C so they don’t pick up cooties from my little carrier monkeys. So, I’ll admit it–We take vitamins.
And, aside from having a generic knowledge of what the different vitamins do for my body, I have no real idea why. In my head, I think of these extra vitamins that I take as a way to bridge the gap in any deficiencies in my diet. Sure, I try to eat well, but I know I’m not eating as many fruits and vegetables as I should.
Studies have shown that, for people who don’t have access to proper nutrition, multi-vitamins are a great way to go. However, for people who eat a relatively healthy diet, there just isn’t enough evidence that supports the necessity of extra vitamins.
The vitamin craze all began with theoretical concepts. Several scientists had solid ideas about free radicals and antioxidants. Then, unfortunately, instead of waiting for research and proof; marketers went wild and the vitamin craze began.
Whether you believe in a multi-vitamin or not, the answer is simple–eat well. As long as you eat like you’re supposed to, you don’t have a personal need for vitamins.
Until more studies can prove the benefits of multi-vitamins, the safer route would be to do without.
What is your opinion on vitamins? Let us know in the comments below.