Are Vitamins a Waste of Money? An Expert's Perspective

Nick Blackmer is a librarian, data verifier and researcher with more than 20 years of experience in consumer-oriented health and wellness content. It is widely accepted that vitamin and mineral supplements are unlikely to protect against cancer, cardiovascular disease, or death, according to updated U. S. guidelines.

While the use of dietary supplements is common among adults in the United States, some experts argue that vitamins and supplements are a “waste of money”.Dr. John Wong, professor of medicine at Tufts University and a member of the USPSTF, told Verywell that it's reasonable to assume that certain anti-inflammatory supplements could reduce the risk of developing cancer or cardiovascular disease, but there is no evidence to support the association. The USPSTF did issue a “D” rating for some supplements, such as vitamin E and beta-carotene, to discourage people from using them. Vitamin E supplements don't offer protective benefits against cancer or cardiovascular disease, Wong said.

Beta-carotene supplements, which are converted to vitamin A in the body, may even increase the risk of lung cancer in people who already have certain risk factors, such as smoking or occupational exposure to asbestos. Wong emphasized that these recommendations were made specifically for non-pregnant adults. They do not apply to children, adults with chronic illnesses, people with nutritional deficiencies, or in circumstances where diseases or medications interfere with the absorption of nutrients. Before taking a supplement, experts recommend considering misleading health claims on labels. The Food and Drug Administration does not approve dietary supplements to ensure the safety or efficacy of supplements, nor does it approve labeling before a supplement goes on sale. Some supplement labels promote unproven claims that the product “has no side effects” or is “better” than a prescription drug.

Without evidence to support the effectiveness of supplements, many nutrition and public health experts say it's best to focus on getting nutrients from the diet. According to Emma Laing, PhD, RDN, a clinical professor at the University of Georgia and a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, it's easier for the body to use vitamins and minerals that come from a balanced diet than from supplements. Laing told Verywell that the compounds in fruits and vegetables work “synergistically” to promote health, and these “cannot be replicated” in a dietary supplement. Despite the lack of evidence to support the use of supplements to reduce cardiovascular disease and cancer risk, the USPSTF does recommend some supplements. For example, folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, earned an “A” grade for use in pregnant adults because it helps prevent certain birth defects.

While some foods are fortified with folic acid, it's still difficult to get enough of this vitamin through diet alone. Vitamin D is another nutrient that can be difficult to fully satisfy through the diet. The body generates vitamin D when the skin is exposed to the sun, but some people may have difficulty absorbing enough of the vitamin through exposure to the sun and from foods such as fatty fish and beef liver. However, too much vitamin D can cause health problems, such as kidney stones, confusion, and vomiting. You can ask your healthcare provider for a blood test if you're not sure if you need to take vitamin D supplements.

Vitamin D isn't the only supplement that can cause harm at high doses. St. John's wort, an herb that has been used to treat depression and lack of sleep, may interact with contraceptives and other medications, while vitamin C may make some cancer treatments less effective. Even when supplements don't cause harm, they may not need to be taken in excess because the body doesn't use them. Certain supplements can interact with medications, making them less effective.

While supplements are available without a prescription, you should consider talking to a trusted healthcare provider before starting any supplement regimen. It is important to talk to health professionals about dietary supplements before taking them as they can have both positive and negative effects on your health. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements states that consuming vitamins as supplements in isolation means that they may behave differently than when they are naturally packaged with other nutrients. As for vitamins and nutrients, there is the daily value but even so 100% of this value simply means the minimum amount needed to avoid succumbing to nutrient deficiency diseases such as vitamin D and rickets or vitamin C and scurvy. However there is little consensus among experts on whether taking vitamin and mineral supplements is beneficial for prevention or treatment of cardiovascular disease. A new Canadian review brought together findings from existing research on role of vitamin and mineral supplements in prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

The review found that taking most commonly used supplements (multivitamins, vitamin D, vitamin C and calcium) had no significant effect on risk of heart-related diseases. For example people with deficiencies in vitamins such as calcium or vitamin D derive significant benefits from supplementation which can prevent fractures in older adults. However one study showed that men (but not women) who took multivitamin supplement for more than 10 years had lower incidence of cancer. Vitamins are organic molecules organisms need in small amounts to ensure their metabolism works properly. More than half of American adults have consumed at least one vitamin supplement in past month but federal panel of health experts suggests they could be wasting their time and money as there is insufficient evidence for or against taking most vitamins and minerals including multivitamins unless person has actual deficiency. The amount of iron in multivitamin may also be beneficial for women of childbearing age according to Appel adds.

Ben Liebhardt
Ben Liebhardt

Amateur travel fanatic. General web buff. Certified travel junkie. Twitter nerd. Infuriatingly humble web practitioner. Certified beer nerd.

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