Do vitamins actually work?
It’s been an ongoing debate in recent years as researchers question the merits of your morning pill-popping routine. And yet, dozens of startups have devoted themselves to the controversial supplement: Ritual, Care/Of, Goop, HUMS, Ancient Nutrition, and Moon Juice are just a few of the recent companies promising health-boosting benefits.
Just this week, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology attested to the sector’s questionable qualities. In it, researchers compared clinical trials over five years to determine whether regular vitamin intake improves one’s overall health and well-being. The results were less than encouraging: In evaluating multivitamins, as well as vitamin C, vitamin D, and calcium supplements, “none had a significant effect,” reported the authors.
“In general, the data on the popular supplements show no consistent benefit for the prevention of CVD (cardiovascular disease), MI (myocardial infarction), or stroke, nor was there a benefit for all-cause mortality to support their continued use,” it read. They did, however, find folic acid and B-vitamins to be beneficial.
It’s one of many studies trying to determine the benefits–or potential hazards–of popular supplements. In fact, The National Institutes of Health has spent more than $2.4 billion since 1999 studying vitamins and minerals, reports the New York Times.
Roughly half of all American adults—including 68 percent of those age 65 and older—take a multivitamin or mineral supplement on a regular basis, according to a recent Gallup poll. The booming supplement industry, which has now seeped into the millennial market, exceeds $12 billion per year. It’s why you’ll now see beauty supplements sold at your local Sephora or Nordstrom. Wellness is a lifestyle now. Despite ongoing skepticism from the scientific community, consumers don’t seem troubled by the fact that their Flinstone vitamins might just be mere placebos.
This is not to say all vitamins are useless, but rather, that many just make people feel more proactive about their health. And therein lies the everlasting appeal of supplements: you believe you’re doing something good for your body. It makes you feel like you’re in control, more responsible, and well, a little less guilty about your unbalanced diet. With Americans more health and wellness-driven than ever before, it’s no surprise that they’ll shell out for anything that promises life-everlasting.
Don’t expect that to change. With studies going back and forth, constantly reevaluating vitamins’ worth, consumers have no choice but to make their judgment call. And they tend to want what is simpler, easier, and promises fast results.
Kate Scarlata, a Boston-based registered dietitian and gut health expert with over 30 years experience, says consumers are prone to buying what they want to believe. “People are looking for the quick solution,” she says.
Scarlata, like many nutritionists and dietitians, urges clients to take the harder, yet more effective alternative: simply eating nutritious meals. She’s not opposed to vitamins, and in fact asserts it’s crucial for people whose bodies lack a certain mineral; she simply thinks it’s the second-best option.
“These foods are encapsulated with fiber and phytochemicals and a number of other things that often work synergistically in the body,” she explains. “Nature always seems to have it a little bit better than we do.”