Are Vitamins/Supplements a Necessity?

Theme: Ethics and Controversy


Carlotta Ceccarelli

I’m sure we have all fallen into the marketing traps of labels announcing “age rewinding properties!”, or the before and after images of extensive hair growth in “just two weeks!”. We can all agree that there are a plethora of vitamin or supplement options, suited and accessible to everyone with every kind of “need”. But in reality, our generation has to start realising that marketers could just be preying on our insecurities; we have been fostered at a young age to believe that everything we see online is true to life. The people we engage with could be products of plastic surgery or performance-enhancing drugs for example, and nothing would need to be disclosed. For a generation with a strong need to improve in performances and with an online presence filled with impractical beauty standards- a small gummy with said Alice in wonderland capabilities sounds like a dream.


From a research survey conducted in the United States, 49% of the people who take vitamins or supplements gather their information from sources other than physicians [1]. This percentage of people could likely belong to those who have never actually been tested for nutritional deficiency. They may not even belong to the groups that are normally recommended vitamins or supplements: the sun-deprived, those with restrictive diets, the ones of childbearing age and those who have chronic health conditions [2]. The 49% of people could be a party to the false reassurance built around endorsing vitamins or supplements, investing money into largely inconclusive means rather than looking for a lifestyle change.


Vitamins or supplements can come unstandardised, meaning active ingredients may vary for each dose. In the United States, many companies do not even need to prove the safety or effectiveness of their products. 50% of people with Diabetes utilize over-the-counter vitamins or supplements in hopes of lowering blood sugar levels the natural way. Many already take prescription medication to stimulate insulin release, without realising that both of these agents combined could cause contraindications. Combinations with extra Chromium or Magnesium could lead to dangerously low blood sugar levels, with the long term effects still in the risky unknown [3]. In a similar way, there have been supplements known to affect anxiety and insomnia treatment drugs such as Xanax [4]. Xanax is a benzodiazepine drug, where its undesirable side effects can be prominent when interacting with certain chemicals present in supplements or vitamins. Although some supplements or vitamins may be beneficial, there is still the risk of heightening symptoms of memory impairment, depressive episodes and loss of orientation [5].


The type of vitamin you drink may also cause complications in the long run, specifically the excess intake of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K. Unlike water-soluble vitamins, they aren’t absorbed straight into the bloodstream, instead, they are stored in both the liver and fat tissues. But because they are stored in order to be dispensed to our needs, an accumulation can occur over large periods of time. This is when instead of doing good for us, there is potential toxicity leading to liver disease [6]. There have also been links made as of recently to do with vitamins and supplements causing risks of health issues such as cancer. Synthetic forms of vitamins such as vitamin B can be ingested as a pill in the form of Folic Acid, however, Folate is the naturally occurring form found in the food we eat. Both of these are broken down in the gut in order to gain the benefits through our bloodstream, except Folate does at a much higher percentage. When taking supplements, Folic acid can be built up unmetabolized. This can be dangerous, few studies show an increase in the ability for cancer cells to grow and spread due to this accumulation [7].


At the end of the day, there is no type of supplement that can replace a healthy balanced diet. It is much more difficult to overdose on vitamins just from whole foods, sparing a lot of risk from the unknown too. The adverse examples pointed out throughout the article are only a few of many, there is a lot more to vitamins and supplements that are unclear than we might expect; the miracle-cure reputation received may not be applicable to many more circumstances! Therefore it is worth sparing the worry of not including superfoods in our daily meals- if vitamins or supplements are taken just to remain healthy, it is advised to just notify your physician beforehand.


Glossary:

  • Performance-enhancing drugs: Performance-enhancing substances, also known as performance-enhancing drugs, are substances that are used to improve any form of activity performance in humans.

  • Deficiency: A lack or shortage.

  • Chronic: (of an illness) persisting for a long time or constantly recurring.

  • Diabetes: A disease in which the body’s ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin is impaired, resulting in abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and elevated levels of glucose in the blood.

  • Prescription: An instruction written by a medical practitioner that authorizes a patient to be issued with a medicine or treatment.

  • Insulin: A hormone produced in the pancreas by the islets of Langerhans, which regulates the amount of glucose in the blood. The lack of insulin causes a form of diabetes.

  • Contraindications: In medicine, a contraindication is a condition or factor that serves as a reason to withhold a certain medical treatment due to the harm that it would cause the patient.

  • Insomnia: Habitual sleeplessness; inability to sleep.

  • Benzodiazepine: Any of a class of heterocyclic organic compounds used as tranquilizer, such as Librium and Valium.

  • Impairment: The state or fact of being impaired, especially in a specified faculty.

  • Orientation: The action of orienting someone or something relative to the points of a compass or other specified positions.

  • Fat-soluble: Able to be dissolved in fats or oils.

  • Water-soluble: Able to be dissolved in water.

  • Toxicity: The quality of being toxic or poisonous.

  • Synthetic: (of a substance) made by chemical synthesis, especially to imitate a natural product.

  • Unmetabolized: Not metabolized.

  • Superfoods: Superfood is a marketing term for food assumed to confer health benefits resulting from an exceptional nutrient density.

References:

  1. The DO. 2019. Most Americans Take Vitamins And Supplements Without Tests Indicating Deficiencies. [online] Available at: <https://thedo.osteopathic.org/2019/01/most-americans-take-vitamins-and-supplements-without-tests-indicating-deficiencies/> [Accessed 30 July 2020].

  2. Radcliffe, S., 2014. 3 Groups Who Really Can Benefit From Vitamin Supplements. [online] Healthline. Available at: <https://www.healthline.com/health-news/food-three-groups-who-can-benefit-from-vitamins-121913#4> [Accessed 30 July 2020].

  3. Harrar, S., 2011. Taking Diabetes Drugs With Nutritional Supplements. [online] Today's Dietician. Available at: <https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/110211p32.shtml> [Accessed 30 July 2020].

  4. Cooperman, T., 2017. Are There Any Supplements I Should Avoid When Taking Valium Or Xanax?. [online] Consumerlab.com. Available at: <https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/are-there-any-supplements-i-should-avoid-when-taking-valium-or-xanax/Valium_Xanax_interactions/> [Accessed 30 July 2020].

  5. Ogburu, A., n.d. BENZODIAZEPINES. [online] RxList. Available at: <https://www.rxlist.com/benzodiazepines/drug-class.htm> [Accessed 31 July 2020].

  6. Komaroff, A., 2018. Buildup Of Fat-Soluble Vitamins Can Cause Harm. [online] uexpress. Available at: <https://www.uexpress.com/ask-dr-k/2016/3/18/buildup-of-fat-soluble-vitamins-can-cause> [Accessed 31 July 2020].

  7. Petre, A., 2020. 4 Potential Side Effects Of Too Much Folic Acid. [online] Healthline. Available at: <https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/folic-acid-side-effects#9> [Accessed 31 July 2020].

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