According to a 2013 Gallup poll, half of all Americans report regular vitamin or mineral supplement intake, with annual U.S. vitamin sales totaling $12 billion. Despite the widespread consumption of vitamins, it is unclear whether they offer the health benefits pharmaceutical companies claim.
Vitamins and minerals range in form and type, from folic acid and iron pills to common multivitamin chewable. These pills, tablets, and liquids are biochemically diverse and vary in their molecular compound formulas.
People often take vitamins to remedy diagnosed or perceived nutritional deficiencies. Depending on factors such as age, sex, pregnancy or health impairment, vitamin and mineral intake levels — usually measured by the Recommended Daily Allowance — are adjusted appropriately for each specific condition. However, Brede said taking vitamins is only effective in addressing actual dietary or health insufficiencies, and offer no advantage when such are absent.
While there is currently little data in scientific literature proving the link between vitamin consumption and health benefits, research on vitamins remains prevalent.
“Research is ongoing to update recommended levels of various nutrients,” Brede said. “For example, historically, Vitamin D was considered essential for preventing deficiency diseases impacting skeletal health. More recent research has expanded our understanding of the roles Vitamin D plays in health, and the recommended levels were revised in the last decade.”
Just as there are possible benefits of vitamin intake, there are potential risks related to overdosing or absorbing unnecessary minerals in the body.
“A balanced diet is a safe and effective way to ensure adequate, but not too much, of the nutrients we need,” Brede said. “Getting a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish, dairy, nuts and vegetable oils provides the vitamins and minerals we need. Supplemental vitamins and minerals can be used effectively to fill gaps if food allergies or intolerances prevent adequate intake of food sources of specific nutrients.”
Likewise, Appel proposed that a healthy diet and lifestyle should be favored over vitamin consumption.