Food Is Not Your Enemy

Should You Bother Taking Vitamin Pills?
February 10, 2014, 12:28 pm
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Healthy Lifestyle | Tags: , ,

In the U.S., we love our pills. We often lean on pills as a crutch—if you don’t feel you can (or want to) improve your diet to lower cholesterol, you’re given a prescription for a statin drug. If you don’t exercise, manage stress, or lower your salt intake, you’re simply given some pills to bring down your blood pressure. Anxious? Here’s a pill. Can’t sleep? Don’t bother looking to see if your late-night eating or alcohol consumption are affecting your sleep, just take a pill.

In this spirit, we often turn to vitamin pills—why bother eating healthier food when you can just take the vitamins you need in pill form? But some new studies have shown that not only can vitamins be ineffective, they can also be downright harmful.

When you eat tomatoes, there are certain nutrients you can count on getting: vitamins A, B6, C, E, K, thiamin, niacin, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, potassium, and manganese. But the tomato also contains lots of fiber and micronutrients, many of which researchers acknowledge are not even yet identified. Our body efficiently absorbs the nutrients from a natural source like a tomato. One of the issues with vitamin pills is that the nutrients are isolated, removed from their natural delivery system that includes the fiber and micronutrients. And scientists are starting to find that we don’t absorb and use the vitamins from pills in the same way or as effectively as we would from real food containing those nutrients.

Despite their popularity, there is no evidence that multivitamins enhance health or prevent illness. Both the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and a National Institutes of Health State-of-the-Science Conference concluded that multivitamins do not offer protection against heart disease or cancer. On the other hand, studies have shown a strong link between vegetable consumption and the prevention of cancer.

Even more surprising was a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine that showed that women who took multivitamins were 6 percent more likely to die than those not taking them! I had always been neutral about vitamins in the past; I felt that they weren’t necessary for the most part if you were eating a good diet, but that there was no real harm in taking them if you wanted to. But this kind of study really gives me pause.

So if you’re looking to up your intake of essential nutrients, eat more vegetables and fruits. Eat more beans. Eat more whole grains. Eat more eggs. And question all those vitamin bottles in your medicine cabinet.

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