Vitamins and Supplements: Waste of Money or Necessary for Health?

vitaminI’ll sometimes wander down the vitamin and supplement aisle when I’m in a pharmacy – which is usually a full two-sided aisle – and think to myself “If there are so many of these here, I probably need to be taking them!” However, I’ve never been told by a doctor that I need to take any vitamins or supplements (other than maybe a multivitamin), probably because I eat a pretty balanced diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables. However, I’ve always been curious why there are so many products on the market if doctors aren’t suggesting that people take them.

I read an article in the New York Times a little while ago which talked about the fact that healthy people might be wasting hundreds of dollars a year on vitamins and supplements. The idea is that if a doctor hasn’t prescribed a supplement for a medical reason (such as a vitamin D deficiency), then there may be no benefit to taking it. The article also says you’d be better off getting those same nutrients from food, because your body can absorb them better that way.

I’ve seen a number of patients recently who have said that they are taking various vitamins or supplements for different reasons such as “to make my hair shiny” or “to increase my energy”. The truth is that a balanced diet, some exercise, and enough sleep are the keys to making your body function properly. Unfortunately, there’s no magic vitamin that can take the place of these important lifestyle factors.

It’s also important to remember that dietary supplements aren’t regulated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) like food is. So while the bottle may claim that is includes certain ingredients, there isn’t someone making sure that it contains only those ingredients and nothing else, or that the supplement will actually do what it claims on the package. Bottom line: if you’re thinking of taking a supplement or vitamin, ask your health care provider first to make sure that it’s safe, necessary, and won’t interact with any other medicines you might be taking.

-Dietitian Katrina