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Dangerous Myths About Vitamins That Need to Go Away

 Vitamins are immensely popular, so much so the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reported that 52% of American adults were using some kind of supplement in 2011-2012. Since that time, the vitamins and supplements industry has only grown, experiencing an especially significant boom in 2020 when the global pandemic had made people worldwide desperate for ways to protect themselves from Covid-19.
And while we realized that, in many cases, the use of vitamins and supplements is justified and even necessary, we also recognized that there is a lot of misinformation surrounding their use as well. Are you using vitamins are other supplements correctly, or are you just wasting your hard-earned cash? Find out by reading about the 8 most common myths related to the use of vitamins and dietary supplements.

1. Myth: If you forget to take your supplement, you should take a double dose the next day

myths about vitamins and supplements woman holding a handful of pills

People often assume that vitamins and supplements can be taken in whichever quantities they want to take them because purchasing them doesn't require a prescription and they're "natural". But supplements and vitamins are more similar to other medications than you'd think and much like other meds, they are dose-dependent. This is why, when it comes to vitamins, more isn't necessarily better.

In the best scenario, doubling the dose of a vitamin or supplement will not be very useful, but if you do it frequently or with the wrong vitamin, it can even be dangerous. For example, excessive consumption of vitamin C "can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb copper, a metal that’s needed by the body. Too much phosphorous can inhibit the body’s absorption of calcium. The body cannot get rid of large doses of vitamins A, D, and K, and these can reach toxic levels when too much is taken,” according to the American Cancer Society.

Excessive intake of vitamins can lead to a condition called hypervitaminosis, which manifests itself through a variety of unpleasant symptoms and even organ damage depending on the specific vitamins that are overconsumed. Fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin D, E, A, and K are more likely to build up in the body than water-soluble ones, but even too much vitamin C, a water-soluble vitamin, can cause diarrhea and stomach pain when you take too much of it.

Therefore, it's best not to take vitamins unnecessarily. Also, if you do end up missing a day of the vitamin you're taking, just take the usual dosage, no need to double the dosage.

2. Myth: Vitamins and other supplements are best taken on an empty stomach

myths about vitamins and supplements pills on yellow background
The reality is that most vitamins and supplements are not best taken on an empty stomach. Once again, the way you should take a vitamin will depend on whether it's fat-soluble or water-soluble. Nutrients that are water-soluble, such as vitamin C and B vitamins don't require food to be absorbed by the body and can be taken at any time of the day, not necessarily in the morning. Fat-soluble ones, on the other hand, such as vitamins D, A, K, and E, are best taken after a meal, preferably one that contained some fat. This will boost the absorption of the vitamin and will ultimately make it more effective.
If you're taking a multivitamin, it most likely contains both types of vitamins, so it's best to actually take it after a meal that contains some fat. When in doubt, we recommend you consult the directions on the bottle of the supplement. In any case, taking vitamins or supplements on empty stomach is probably the worst time to take them, especially since many people report that it can make them nauseous or lead to digestive discomfort.

3. Taking vitamins is only necessary when you have low energy or you’re under the weather

myths about vitamins and supplements sick woman taking pills
Are you only reaching for the vitamins or supplements you're supposed to take in the winter, or when you feel tired and sense a cold coming up? If so, it's best to save your money and not take those supplements at all, as only taking them for a few days will most likely not give you any beneficial results. This brings forward another interesting question: how long does it take for a vitamin or supplement to "kick in"? The short answer is, 'It depends', but typically, several weeks of daily supplementation is necessary for you to notice the first results.
How fast and how much the supplement will start working depends on many factors, such as the severity of the deficiency, the dosage, and why you're taking the supplement, to begin with. If we're talking about a vitamin deficiency diagnosed by your doctor, for example, after which you have been prescribed a vitamin supplement, you may not even feel the difference in the first weeks or months, and the best gauge that the vitamin is working will be a follow-up blood test, which your physician is likely to prescribe.
If, however, you're taking a supplement to strengthen your nails or hair, for example, it may take much longer for you to see results, mainly because hair and nails grow very slowly and it will probably take several months of daily supplementation for you to see any beneficial results. In any case, taking a supplement for only a few days is unlikely to have any marked benefits in most cases.

4. Vitamin D prevents cancer

myths about vitamins and supplements pill organizer

Vitamin D supplements are very popular, and they have been suggested to be effective at staving off many diseases, particularly cancer, and more recently Covid-19. This is because vitamin D deficiencies are among the most common deficiencies on the planet, which makes sense if think about it: since we get most of our vitamin D from the sun, and people who are frail are more likely to spend less time outside, which may result in a vitamin D deficiency.

This is why researchers say that we must be careful before we claim that any of these conditions are related to vitamin D deficiency. One particular example of a false causal relationship that has spurred a large number of studies is the link between low vitamin D and cancer. One of the largest studies investigating this correlation goes back to 2018. This randomized, placebo-controlled study involved 25,871 people and concluded the following, “Supplementation with vitamin D did not result in a lower incidence of invasive cancer or cardiovascular events than placebo.”

Therefore, it seems like low vitamin D levels are most likely not causing cancer, but it can manifest itself through other unpleasant symptoms, like the ones we've discussed in a previous article, so talk to your doctor if you need to take a vitamin D supplement if you're deficient in the vitamin.

5. If you take a multivitamin, it doesn’t matter what you eat

myths about vitamins and supplements
Vitamins and supplements are never the bulk of a healthy diet and lifestyle. At best, they are a safety net that can help you patch up the weak spots and provide nutrients that your diet or lifestyle can temporarily not give you. After all, the science of nutrition and the world of dietary supplements is still relatively new, and in reality, doctors are still undecided about just how effective supplements are.
What we do know for a fact, however, is that wholesome foods are capable of providing us with all the nutrients we need and fend off many diseases, so a healthy diet should always be your first priority. As a dietitian, Dr. Andy Bellatti told the Insider, "A lot of times that vitamin works synergistically with other nutrients", and we just don't know enough about how these naturally present nutrients interact to replicate the same synergy in a supplement. 

6. Your diet will provide you with all the essential nutrients

myths about vitamins and supplements

While a good diet is always the primary source of vitamins and other beneficial nutrients, it doesn't mean that dietary supplements have no place in a person's life. As a matter of fact, in many cases, vitamins and supplements may actually be necessary and help people manage various conditions. For example, someone who is losing weight and is on a calorie-restricted diet can greatly benefit from a multivitamin supplement. Those who are lactose intolerant may benefit from calcium and vitamin D supplements, and vegans and vegetarians may require a B vitamin supplement.

Whether or not you need to take a supplement doesn't have to be diet-related either: for instance, those who don't get enough sun because they live in a cold climate may need to take a vitamin D supplement, women of childbearing age benefit from taking folic acid, and seniors may best off taking a Vitamin D, B Vitamins, and Calcium supplement because the production and retention of these vitamins decrease with age. Therefore, there is no need to shy away from supplements completely, especially if you need them to prevent or treat certain health conditions.

7. Vitamin C can help you get over a cold faster

myths about vitamins and supplements oranges and pills on a plate

This flu season, you can save your money on all those fizzy vitamin C drinks and vitamin C supplements. This is because taking high doses of vitamin C to fend off a cold or make it pass faster was never a medical fact, but rather a misconstrued tip from a Nobel Prize-winning chemist that blew up in the media.

Several studies have proven these facts as well, most notably a 2013 Cochrane review article that involved over 11,000 participants and overtly concluded the following: "The failure of vitamin C supplementation to reduce the incidence of colds in the general population indicates that routine vitamin C supplementation is not justified". The same review also found mixed results in vitamin C's ability to reduce the severity and length of a cold.

8. Vitamins and supplements are tightly regulated

myths about vitamins and supplements handful of pills

Lastly, we'd like to point out to you that the market for dietary vitamins and supplement is, in fact, not as tightly regulated as you'd think, at least in many countries. In the United States, for example, "supplements do not need to be proven safe by the Food and Drug Administration," said Dena Champion, a registered dietitian at Ohio State University's Wexner Medical Center to US News.

Champion also pointed out that the FDA can only remove a supplement from the market after several reports of people having adverse reactions to the supplement have been submitted to them. One such example is the weight loss ingredient "ephedra", which took 16,000 cases of adverse health effects (including 155 deaths) to urge the FDA to ban ephedra in 2004.

Thus, while supplements may be very similar to medicine in terms of use and potential adverse effects, they are unfortunately not tested as thoroughly as drugs. This is why we'd like to caution you against buying supplements from non-reputable sources and only take those supplements which you need.

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