To take or not to take?

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One third of the British population take a multivitamin every day. 15% of this number take a high

dose every day as a ‘quick fix’ approach towards maintaining their health. But what’s the reality?

Can the multivitamins found in our diet really be replaced so easily? Many people look at vitamin

tablets as a sort of health insurance, but is this a realistic view?

All about vitamins

The human body needs a number of different vitamins and minerals to maintain itself. Vitamins

are substances that the body cannot make so therefore they must be found within our diet.

Different vitamins have different functions:

 D – important for bones

 B – gives energy

 A – aids immunity and growth

 C – aids immunity and connective tissue

A balanced diet should provide all of these vitamins, but often it does not for various reasons.

The industry solution

The pharmaceutical industry would like us to believe that synthetic vitamins are essential to our

ongoing health and happiness. Multivitamins are big business. Manufacturers know that people are

very health-conscious these days and anything which is convenient, quick and boasts great benefits

is going to sell well; hence the mass production of every type of vitamin that exists. The revenue

created by the sale of additional vitamins is enormous.

The truth?

A 2011 study of 38,000 women showed regular use of multivitamins. Of this number, 2.4% were at

increased risk of death due to taking vitamins. More than 90% of manufactured vitamins are

synthetic and as such do not really benefit the human body at all.

There is evidence to suggest that the body is unable to use man-made vitamins in the same way as

naturally obtained ones. This is because natural vitamins come surrounded by a support structure of

many other molecules such as cofactors and minerals, and it is this entirety which the body benefits

from, rather than just the vitamin. Artificially manufactured vitamins do not have this support

structure, instead they are isolated, and as such they are not recognised by the human body.

As ever, if a solution to a demanding problem seems too simply and quick to be true – it probably is.

The idea of swallowing a little pill every day which is guaranteed to keep you healthy and protect

you from ageing and chronic disease is very attractive. However the reality is that we cannot easily

reproduce in science what is produced by nature. Vitamins have to be found in our everyday diet;

foods such as vegetables, fruit, wholegrains and meat are rich in the vitamins, minerals and

compounds that our bodies need to survive.

Exceptions

However, as with all rules, there are exceptions to this one. In some situations multivitamins are

recommended for health reasons and these include:

 During pregnancy and breastfeeding

 A folic acid supplement if you are trying to conceive or are in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy

 A daily multivitamin containing A, C and D is recommended for children aged six months to 5

years.

 Anyone who is malnourished for any reason should take a multivitamin

 Anyone who does intense sport

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