We have all heard of vitamins. We know we should be getting some. We suspect we do not get enough. The pharmacy is full of them. We see adverts on TV every day. What is the truth? What does the real science say? What should we be doing about vitamins in our personal health plans?
Let us start with some basics: optimal human health requires the balances intake of macro-nutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fat) and micro-nutrients (minerals and vitamins) and water. The human body does not produce vitamins (in the main) so we must consume vitamins in our diet. (This is a bit of an oversimplification but in general it holds.)
The main vitamins are:
- Vitamin A – often called “retinol” and “carotene”, vitamin A is found in fish, dairy and many plant foods. Vitamin A is most important in good vision.
- Vitamin B – this large group of vitamins (B1-B12) is found in many foods including meats, vegetables, and wholegrains. B vitamins play important roles in many parts of normal metabolism.
- Vitamin C – aka ascorbic acid, found in fresh fruit and veg, vitamin C is essential for health and good immunity, with scurvy the best-known result of deficiency.
- Vitamin D – found in eggs, liver, and some fish, Vitamin d is also produced by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D is required for normal bone growth with Rickets the best-known result of deficiency.
Most experts believe that a good balanced diet does, or can, provide all the vitamins (and other nutrients) we need. But because few of us actually eat optimally, and because we are always looking or easy-routes to health, and because there is money to be made, there is a huge industry selling all manner of supplements for health, for weight loss, for concentration and productivity, for better skin, etc. Most of us have used these at some stage. But the science is not solid. There is very little really good evidence in support of vitamin supplements. Most claims regarding vitamin supplements are not supported by good science, despite the often-very-convincing efforts of incentivised marketers.
We are what we eat. Good nutrition is linked to good health and the reverse holds true too. Eat well and you’ll get all you need. But if your diet is not optimal and if you want to spend some cash to ensure better nutrition, a multivitamin from a reputable brand may be worth considering. Or maybe not – we feel a bit “on the fence” here because the science is weak and yet the temptation to take a simple “multivit”, “just in case it helps” is understandable. It’s your call then (sorry).