Home University Observer Science & Health

Vitamin supplements: Are they really necessary?

With a whole host of dietary supplements to choose from, Jack Lynch asks whether popular vitamin supplements are worth buying.

 

In the modern era there seems to be a constant infatuation with being healthy and staying fit. So what does this actually entail? Going to the gym, exercising, wearing skin tight clothing and taking some supplements? Research has demonstrated that perhaps those vitamin supplements on sale aren’t really benefiting you after all – that is, if you are maintaining a balanced diet.

“perhaps those vitamin supplements on sale aren’t really benefiting you after all – that is, if you are maintaining a balanced diet.”

So, vitamin supplements, what are they? They provide their buyers with specific doses of a certain vitamin. Iron deficient? Here, take some iron supplements. Not sure you’re getting enough zinc? Here are some zinc supplements for you! Supposedly, that’s great news for those starting college again, with crowded lecture rooms and sneezing strangers  – everyone loves a bit of vitamin C. But with much skepticism flowing around about the true efficacy of vitamin supplements, can we say whether they are actually beneficial to our health?

“Contrary to common wisdom, vitamin C is not a cure for the common cold

Let’s pick vitamin C as our example. Contrary to common belief, vitamin C is not a cure for the common cold (though it can prevent more serious complications). It functions by offering protection against pathogens that have the potential to cause immune system deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, prenatal health problems, eye disease, and even skin wrinkling. Take that, sceptics!

The attention that vitamin C gets may be warranted, according to  Dr Mark Moyad, MPH, of the University of Michigan. He notes that higher levels of vitamin C in the blood may be the ideal nutrition marker for overall health. He goes on to say that “the more we study vitamin C, the better our understanding of how diverse it is in protecting our health, from cardiovascular, cancer, stroke, eye health [and] immunity”, all of which contribute to living longer.

“If we eat a wide enough variety of food, from fish and meat to fruit and veg, we should be just fine”

Words of praise indeed, but are vitamin C supplements really necessary to reap these benefits? Not so, says the medical consensus. Nutritionists and doctors are coming to agree on something –  a balanced diet is the most important way for us to get all of our vitamins in the right amounts. No need for supplements or additives, they say. If we eat a wide enough variety of food in healthy amounts, from fish and meat to fruit and veg, we will be supplied with our required amounts of nutrients.. Vitamin supplements are beneficial for those who experience vitamin deficiencies, simply having a varied and balanced diet is not enough to prevent a person from succumbing to illness.

So what can you do? The professionals recommend giving your physician a visit to identify whether you have a specific vitamin deficiency, and to understand that we are all individuals – the incorporation of vitamin supplements into our diet should be personalised to our own specific needs and not incorporated as part of a societal “fad”.

For now, stay safe, and eat your oranges.