You see multivitamins for sale in supermarkets, health shops, pharmacies, general grocery stores and health clubs. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide take them regularly, without fail. But, what good do they do us? We simply don't know.
According to a US panel of experts from the NIH Office of Medical Applications of Research and the Office of Dietary Supplements, there is scant information on the benefits and safety of multivitamins.
Multivitamins, in the USA alone, bring in revenues of over $20 billion a year for those who sell them. Half of all American adults take multivitamins.
The panel looked at two days of expert presentations and public discussions. It concluded that more rigorous scientific research is needed on multivitamins use to prevent chronic diseases.
NIH Panel Chairman, Dr. M McGinnis, said the science base is especially thin with respect to the health impact of multivitamins. He said that insufficient available data makes it impossible for the panel to make a firm recommendation for or against the use of multivitamins. He said what little data there is, is not in-depth enough.
The theory goes that if you eat badly, multivitamins can compensate. But we just don't know whether this really happens. Some studies have indicated that the people who take multivitamins the most are also the most health-conscious ones. People who eat well and do exercise consume much larger quantities of multivitamins than those who eat badly and exercise the least, reports Medical News Today.
Vitamins and minerals, often packaged together, are the most-used dietary supplements, and widely assumed to be safe. After all, vitamins naturally occur in some of the healthiest foods, and vitamin deficiencies have been known to be dangerous since scurvy's link to a lack of fruits and vegetables was discovered centuries ago.
The NIH panel concluded the people most likely to have nutrient deficiencies are the least likely to use multivitamins.
There are only a few proven disease-preventing supplements, the NIH panel concluded:
Women of childbearing age should take folic acid supplements to prevent spina bifida and related birth defects.
Calcium and vitamin D together protect the bones of postmenopausal women.
Antioxidants and zinc may slow the worsening of the blinding disease called age-related macular degeneration.
On the other hand, smokers should avoid taking beta-carotene supplements, because the pills can increase their risk of lung cancer, the report stresses.
For other vitamins, concern arises mainly with super doses that exceed the government's "recommended daily amount," or RDA. Between 1 percent and 11 percent of supplement users may be exceeding the upper limits set for certain nutrients, if they add together their doses from pills and their diets, said Cornell University nutritionist Patsy Brannon, informs Herald Net.O.Ch.
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