Just like any topic these days, there is a significant amount of misinformation circling about vitamins and dietary supplements. When it comes to your health, though, you want to make sure you are well informed so that you can make the best choices for yourself. Knowledge is empowering, but ideas that are partially or entirely incorrect can be dangerous.
Let’s take a look at some common myths and misconceptions you may have heard about vitamin supplements and find out the real stories behind them.
Myth #1: Multivitamins just go right through you
FACT: Your body can absorb supplemental nutrients if you take them correctly.
It’s a critique you often hear from skeptics toward those they perceive as gullible health fanatics—that, in a supplement format, your body doesn’t absorb these vitamins and they simply get washed out the next time you hit up the restroom. So, if you take a multivitamin, are you really just flushing your money and any health benefits down the toilet?
The answer is no, so long as you make sure your body absorbs them properly. For these vitamins to be of use, they need to pass through the lining of your intestines and enter your bloodstream. Those that are water-soluble, such as vitamin C, can easily diffuse into your blood and circulate throughout your body. However, those that are fat-soluble, such as vitamin A, have difficulty getting through on their own.1
How do you get those vitamins into your system then? It’s straightforward, really; take them along with fat. The fats in your food (such as 1% milk) help them dissolve and move into your bloodstream, this being just one of the reasons the directions usually suggest taking vitamins with a meal. It can also help to take smaller doses of vitamins at two or more times throughout the day rather than a larger dosage all at once, so your body has a chance to process them adequately.1
Myth #2: Everybody already gets all the vitamins and minerals they need through from their food
FACT: It can be challenging to get adequate nutrition from a modern diet, especially if you have dietary restrictions or health problems.
Doctors and nutritionists agree that the best way to get your daily vitamins is through your food. With careful meal planning, a person could theoretically consume all they need, in bioavailable forms, through nutrient-dense foods and beverages. Anyone could tell you, though, that for practical reasons, this can be next to impossible to do.
First of all, the modern world has added numerous challenges to accessing and preparing adequately nutritious ingredients. Highly processed foods, those cornerstones of the Western diet, contain very little in the way of nutritional value aside from caloric energy. What’s more, nutrient-rich foods like fresh vegetables and whole-grain baked goods tend to be rather pricey, and often aren’t sold in convenient neighborhood shops.
Everybody’s nutritional need is different, as well. Vitamin requirements can change throughout your life. For example, pregnant women need extra folate for their growing baby, young women and adolescent girls often need additional iron due to menstruation, and people over the age of 50 could benefit from extra calcium and vitamin D to reduce their risk of osteoporosis. Some medical conditions can interfere with vitamin absorption, such as irritable bowel syndrome or gallbladder disease.1-3
Myth #3: Every batch of supplements is tested for quality
FACT: Not all supplement manufacturers routinely test their products.
Contrary to what you might expect, not all supplement makers test their products regularly. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has strict requirements for facilities that make medications and other pharmaceutical products, but the standards are looser for dietary supplements. And of course, even if there is a law in place, that doesn’t mean that every company complies with it. Investigators have uncovered from time to time that some vitamins on the market contained high levels of contaminants, or sometimes had meager amounts or none of the actual nutrients in them!4
Fortunately, there are ways that you can make sure the vitamins you buy contain precisely what the label says, and nothing else. Look for products that have been tested and verified by independent, third-party laboratories such as the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, and ConsumerLab. Also look for manufacturers that test every batch of vitamins they make, not just every other batch or fewer.4,5
Myth #4: All supplements are “all-natural”
FACT: Many supplements contain synthetic ingredients or contaminants.
Dietary supplements all come from natural food sources, right? Though that would make sense, many of the vitamins you can buy are produced synthetically. Often, this means that they come in inorganic forms that your body cannot digest or metabolize as well as organic forms. These sometimes contain contaminants as well, such as heavy metals or toxic chemical byproducts which can be hazardous to your health.5
Check the label on your bottle of vitamins—if it doesn’t say “all-natural,” then it probably isn’t. Take a look at the form that the vitamins are in and go for ones that are easily digestible or come from organic sources.
When you can tell fact from fiction in the supplement industry, you can set forth and choose the healthiest vitamins for your body and mind!
- Dorfner M. Multivitamins and Supplements: To Take or Not to Take? Mayo Clinic News Network 2015; https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/multivitamins-and-supplements-to-take-or-not-to-take/. Accessed January 29, 2020, 2020.
- Nieves JW. Calcium, vitamin D, and nutrition in elderly adults. Clin Geriatr Med. 2003;19(2):321-335.
- Ghishan FK, Kiela PR. Vitamins and Minerals in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 2017;46(4):797-808.
- O’Connor A. Knowing What’s in Your Supplements. The New York Times. February 12, 2015, 2015;Well.
- Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know. Office of Dietary Supplements 2020; https://ods.od.nih.gov/HealthInformation/DS_WhatYouNeedToKnow.aspx. Accessed January 31, 2020, 2020.