How vital are vitamins? Niki Bezzant explains pill popping for better health.
Vitamins and other supplements are big business. Around a third of Kiwi women and a quarter of men regularly take some sort of supplement; it’s estimated we spend more than a billion dollars a year on supplements like vitamin C, omega-3, garlic and echinacea.
We often take supplements because we think they’re going to improve our health in some way. They’re promoted as ways to boost our immunity, balance our hormones, improve our mood, relieve stress and give us energy. Some promise to keep us young and lubricate our joints.
But do these things really work? Do we need them to get or be well? Or can we get what we need from food? Are supplements super, or are they a waste of money?
The answer to that is not straightforward, it seems. When you talk to registered dietitians or nutritionists they don’t like to give a blanket answer; that’s because individual needs are very different. Some people with specific health conditions may benefit from expert advice and expert-recommended supplements. By expert I mean a degree-qualified dietitian or nutritionist, not someone in a pharmacy, health food store or on social media.
Vitamin C is an example of something often promoted as a miracle cure for everything from cancer on down. But it’s not something we can use in mega doses. I recently heard Otago University’s Magreet Vissers interviewed: she is an expert in vitamin C and spends her time researching vitamin C and cancer. Yet she’s the first to say healthy people don’t need vitamin C supplements; she herself eats a kiwifruit a day to get her daily dose. If we simply eat five serves of vegetables and fruit a day, we’ll get the 200mg of vitamin C we need to reduce our risk of chronic disease.
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