Student thoughts: Vitamins may not be as beneficial as advertised

Maytinee Kramer / Contributing Writer


With such a large variety of vitamin and mineral supplements offered that claim to be beneficial, one has to wonder if they really help anything at all.

Derived from the word “vita,” meaning “life” in Latin, vitamins are necessary to convert food to energy. Certain vitamin deficiencies can cause diseases such as scurvy, anemia and rickets. Vitamins are essential, but the real question lies in how much people need, and whether they are getting enough of it in food.

One important thing to remember before deciding to buy bottles of everything from vitamin A to zinc is that we need to eat healthy foods. Vitamins simply can’t compensate for poor diet.

Nutrition experts argue that one’s diet is key to getting the best vitamins and minerals naturally, and that people only need the recommended daily allowance found in a routine diet.  However, vitamin manufacturers argue that a regular diet would not suffice, and the higher the vitamin dosage, the better.  Most people assume that vitamins are healthy and any excess can’t do any harm, but as it turns out, large quantities of supplemental vitamins can actually be quite harmful.

As of 2015, Americans will spend $21 billion on vitamins and herbal supplements. This is probably because many of the shortcomings in the U.S. diet are linked to economics.  Fast food is a cheap and quick food option, and processed foods are preferred over fruits and vegetables because packaged goods cost less and don’t spoil as quickly.  It’s strangely contradicting that many of us gripe about the cost of organic foods, then spend billions on products vitamins and supplements in hopes of countering the damage we’ve done to our bodies.

In 2011, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that tied vitamin E supplements to an increased risk of prostate cancer.  A Cochrane review in 2012 found that beta-carotene and vitamin E “seem to increase mortality,” and in 2013 the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent group of doctors, opted not to recommend regular use of any multivitamins or herbal supplements, especially beta-carotene or vitamin E.

The connection between supplemental vitamins and increased rates of cancer lies in antioxidants. Antioxidants are necessary to neutralize free radicals in the body that can cause damage, and can be found in fruits and vegetables, especially selenium, beta-carotene and vitamins A, C and E. Naturally, the logic is that those who eat fruits and vegetables are healthier than those who take supplemental antioxidants, but that’s not really the case.

Free radicals aren’t as damaging as advertised. They are actually necessary to kill bacteria and eliminate new cancer cells. Taking large doses of antioxidants in the form of supplemental vitamins can tip the balance between free radical production and destruction too far one way, causing an unnatural state where the immune system is less able to fight off harmful invaders. There is also no sufficient data to suggest that there is benefit in taking certain vitamin or supplements in excess of the daily recommended allowance, while dangerous vitamin overdose can occur for others.

So why is it we replace our diet with supplemental vitamins? Often, people can’t find the time or money to eat more vegetables, fruits and other healthy foods. We can all admit that, at one point or another, we either haven’t wanted to or had the motivation, so in order to make ourselves feel better, we take a vitamin in the morning and go on our way.

For too long, we’ve been suffering from too much of a good thing. Ingesting large quantities of vitamins is unnatural and unhealthy, so we should examine our food choices and make changes before resorting to vitamins and supplements.

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About the Author

Sam Smith
The Beacon - Editor-in-Chief

1 Comment on "Student thoughts: Vitamins may not be as beneficial as advertised"

  1. The animal known as the naked mole rat is famous because it lives extraordinarily long (31 years) for an animal of its size, and because it never gets cancer, even when slathered in carcinogenic chemicals used to induce cancer in the lab. It is famously ageless.

    The cells of that animal are actually very high in "oxidative stress", so its not simply antioxidants that are keeping it alive and keeping aging at bay.

    The "forehand" proteasome and the "backhand" autophagy are fundamental to pretty much all life, and most diseases. They are the fundamental breakers of misfolded proteins. They clear up the junk, basically.

    It is now known that these genes are strongly active in naked mole rat cells. They are also known to be strongly active in Ginkgo Biloba and giant clams, famous for their tenacity and longevity.

    So somehow this ties in to the incredible stress-resistance of these organisms. Much research still needs to be done. But "antioxidant" as some kind of paragon is very much old hat. It’s not even a particularly useful term, as there are millions of antioxidants.

    The most important word in this article, probably, is "dose".

    There is evidence that *high-dose* vitamin E can inhibit the proteasome and autophagy, increasingly the focus on whom recent research lies.

    So I can see high dose vitamin E may be bad. No idea about vitamin A or carotenoids. Vitamin E isn’t particularly interesting anyway.

    There is nothing that exists that is "as beneficial as advertised". This is pretty much the definition of advertising. But the vitamins worth taking in my opinion are B vitamins, vital as they are to functioning proteasomal and autophagosomal protein degradation, particularly nicotinic acid (B3).

    There have been studies on B vitamins in Alzheimers (a neurodegenerative disease inextricably tied to aberrant protein homeostasis and the proteasome and autophagy), but as far as I know they did not mention proteasome/autophagy.

    Also of interest are vitamin D2 (mushroom kind) and vitamin D3 (fatty fish/sunlight kind), and vitamins K1 and K2.

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