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Multivitamins: A waste of money or a necessary supplement?

Do multivitamins and supplements provide any additional health benefits if you are already living a healthy and balanced lifestyle? Does taking multivitamins actually do anything for you?


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If you are health conscious chances are that you take, or have taken, a multivitamin. But are vitamins and supplements necessary to obtaining, or keeping, health?

More and more people are adopting healthier lifestyles. Whether it is exercising more, eating better, sleeping more – wellness lifestyle trends are growing and as they expand so does the supplement industry.

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We look into some of the research to see whether multivitamins and supplements help us along that path to wellness or if we are just misleading into buying useless products.

The multivitamin industry

We previously reported on the booming dietary supplement market of South Africa. We discovered that almost half (46%) of South Africans take a daily health supplement to boost their immunity and overall well-being.

As South Africans, and the rest of the world, increasingly see their health as a worthy investment so the market grows. In one year alone, the South African supplement industry earned  R48 million on immune-boosting supplements alone.

“The increase in the prevalence of lifestyle diseases and the rise of the active lifestyle trend has significantly driven sales of Vitamins and Supplements.”


Globally the industry is worth over $40 billion and, unfortunately, it is not very well regulated. This means that there are a lot of products out there making claims that they do not live up to.

Recently the Food and Drug Administration sent out warning letters to 17 companies for ‘illegally selling’ products claiming to treat Alzheimer’s.

What are multivitamins?

Multivitamins are supplements that contain vitamins and minerals which naturally occur in food. Each particular vitamin and mineral play a specific role in the body and help it to perform optimally.

The most common type of multivitamin is a once a day pill that contains most, if not all, of the vitamins and minerals that we require on a daily basis.

They can be found in pill, capsule, powder and liquid form.

Do you need to take a multivitamin?

Generally, if you eat a well balanced, varied diet and you’re  healthy, the answer is usually “no.”

Although if you are pregnant or looking to become pregnant you should be taking a prenatal vitamin. Pregnant women require additional folic acid and iron in addition to what a well-rounded diet usually supplies.

“For the average healthy person, you probably don’t need a multivitamin, multimineral supplement.”

Beth Kitchin, PhD, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.

It is unclear whether the vitamins and minerals provided in pill form have the same effect as those obtained in food. What is certain is that food provides a lot more positive health benefits than pills.

A recent study from Annals of Internal Medicine has shown that taking multivitamins weren’t associated with living longer, but getting enough nutrients from food sources was linked to a lower risk of dying early.

It has been proven that cardiovascular health is not influenced by multivitamin intake either according to a study found in the Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes Journal. Their stance?

“Multivitamins do not reduce cardiovascular disease and mortality and should not be taken for this purpose.”

Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes Journal

And an additional study has shown that taking an excess of supplements can increase your cancer risk. Researchers concluded that “taking more than the recommended daily allowance of folic acid, Vitamin E and beta-carotene were all shown to increase cancer risk.”

You are what you eat

A dietary supplement should be exactly that – a supplement to your diet. It is not a quick fix. Nutrition is very complex and a single tablet cannot make up for an inconsistent and unhealthy diet.

And if you already have a great diet taking more vitamins won’t make you super healthier either.

Feeling the onset of flu? Contrary to popular opinion, loading up on Vitamin C is not going to benefit you. In fact, large supplemental doses of vitamin C can cause cramps and diarrhoea.

You may inadvertently be ingesting more minerals and vitamins than you need due to the dosages of the different vitamins and minerals being so concentrated.

Natural vitamins and supplements

According to an Insight Survey’s report, South African consumers are opting for traditional remedies instead of over the counter medication. South Africans are increasingly adopting and accepting natural medication and certain lifestyle practices over traditional.

St John’s wort, echinacea, gingko, green tea extract – all natural supplements whose virtues we extol in our quest for optimum health – can interact with other medications we may be taking.

For example, St John’s wort can reduce the effectiveness of birth control and antidepressants. Vitamin K can lower the effectiveness of certain blood clotting medicine.

The bottom line

Supplements should be individualised according to your specific needs. As usual, it is always best to chat with your doctor before taking any additional vitamins and supplements.

Things to consider are

  • Risk vs the benefits
  • Dosage
  • Interactions with existing medication
  • Your medical history

If only health and wellness were as simple as popping open a bottle and swallowing a pill.