Advertisement

Myth: anyone could benefit from a multivitamin

Myth: anyone could benefit from a multivitamin

In the early 1900s, vitamin-deficiency diseases weren’t unheard-of: these days, you’re extremely unlikely to be seriously deficient. Most packaged foods are vitamin-enriched. Sure, most of us could do with a couple more daily servings of produce, but a multi doesn’t do a good job at substituting for those. “Multivitamins have maybe two dozen ingredients – but plants have hundreds of other useful compounds,” says Dr Marian Neuhouser. “If you just take a multivitamin, you’re missing lots of compounds that may be providing benefits.”

Find out how to make vitamins and minerals work better for you.

Myth: a multivitamin can make up for a bad diet

Myth: a multivitamin can make up for a bad diet
Getty Images

An insurance policy in a pill? If only it were so. One study in the Archives of Internal Medicine looked at findings from the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term study of more than 160,000 midlife women. The data showed that multivitamin-takers are no healthier than those who don’t pop the pills, at least when it comes to the big diseases – cancer, heart disease, stroke. “Even women with poor diets weren’t helped by taking a multivitamin,” says study author Dr Neuhouser.

Find out which supplements heart doctors take.

Myth: vitamin C is a cold fighter

Myth: vitamin C is a cold fighter
Getty Images

In the 1970s, Nobel laureate Linus Pauling popularised the idea that vitamin C could prevent colds. Today, pharmacies are full of vitamin C-based remedies. But don’t get dragged into the hype. In 2013, researchers analysed a raft of studies going back several decades and involving more than 11,000 subjects to arrive at a disappointing conclusion: vitamin C didn’t ward off colds, except among marathoners, skiers, and soldiers on subarctic exercises. The nutrient might help you heal from a cold a day faster, but taking C only after symptoms crop up doesn’t help; researchers conclude that patients can decide for themselves whether year-round pill-popping for minimal benefit is worth the money.

Find out how to decrease your chances of catching a cold.

Myth: vitamin pills can prevent heart disease

Myth: vitamin pills can prevent heart disease
Shutterstock

At one point, researchers hoped antioxidant vitamins like C, E, and beta-carotene could prevent heart disease by reducing the build-up of artery-clogging plaque. B vitamins were promising, too, because folate, B6, and B12 help break down the amino acid homocysteine – and high levels of homocysteine have been linked to heart disease. Unfortunately, none of those hopes have quite panned out. An analysis of seven vitamin E trials concluded that it didn’t cut the risk of stroke or of death from heart disease. The study also scrutinised eight beta-carotene studies and determined that, rather than prevent heart disease, those supplements produced a slight increase in the risk of death. The same is true of the other promising vitamin candidates. One thing has shown promise: coenzyme CoQ10 may have some effect against heart failure (though technically not a vitamin, it does act in much the same way). Instead of taking pills, eat a varied diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Myth: taking vitamins can protect against cancer

Myth: taking vitamins can protect against cancer
Getty Images

Researchers know that unstable molecules called free radicals can damage your cells’ DNA, upping the risk of cancer. They also know that antioxidants can stabilise free radicals, theoretically making them much less dangerous. So why not take some extra antioxidants to protect yourself against cancer? Because research so far has shown no good comes from popping such pills. A number of studies have tried and failed to find a benefit, like one published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that randomly assigned 5442 women to take either a placebo or a B-vitamin combo. Over the course of more than seven years, all the women experienced similar rates of cancers and cancer deaths.

Check out which foods may help prevent cancer.

Myth: hey, it can’t hurt

Myth: hey, it can’t hurt
Getty Images

The old thinking went something like this – sure, vitamin pills might not help you, but they can’t hurt either. However, a series of large-scale studies has turned this thinking on its head, says nutritional epidemiologist Dr Demetrius Albanes. The shift started with a big study of beta-carotene pills. It was meant to test whether the antioxidant could prevent lung cancer, but researchers instead detected surprising increases in lung cancer and deaths among male smokers who took the supplement. Then a ten-year study from 2017 published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology looked at more than 77,000 adults over 50: the results indicate that vitamin B6 and B12 supplements increased lung cancer risk for men (though not for women). Other studies have raised concerns that taking high doses of folic acid could raise the risk of colon cancer. The bottom line: vitamins are safe when you get them in food, but in pill form, they can act more like a drug, Albanes says – with the potential for unexpected and sometimes dangerous effects.

Advertisement

Truth: women planning to have a baby should pop a vitamin

Truth: women planning to have a baby should pop a vitamin
Shutterstock

There is one group that probably ought to keep taking a multi-vitamin: future mums. A woman who gets adequate amounts of the B vitamin folate is much less likely to have a baby with a birth defect affecting the spinal cord. Since the spinal cord starts to develop extremely early – before a woman may know she’s pregnant – the safest course is for her to take 400 micrograms of folic acid (the synthetic form of folate) daily when she’s trying to get pregnant.

Sign up here to get Reader’s Digest’s favourite stories straight to your inbox!

Source: RD.com

Never miss a deal again - sign up now!

Connect with us: