Social media has the power of making anything trendy, and vitamins are no exception. Thanks to Instagram-driven companies that have somehow made multivitamins sexy and personalized, more people are interested in getting their daily health fix now than ever. But are they actually good for you — or are we all wasting our money? We asked One Medical's District Medical Director Natasha Bhuyan, MD, to find out.
Do Vitamins Work?
Dr. Bhuyan said that although taking vitamins sounds appealing — like vitamin C for your immune system and vitamin E for good skin — research has shown that there are better ways to give your body what it needs.
"Unfortunately, studies consistently show that vitamins are great when eaten through nutritious foods, like fruits and vegetables, not when taken through a supplement pill," Dr. Bhuyan told POPSUGAR. "It really is best for people to get vitamins through foods."
Some People Do Need Them
"Those with certain medical conditions such as pernicious anemia have difficulty absorbing B12, while some with cystic fibrosis or pancreas issues may need fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K," according to Dr. Bhuyan. "However, the vast majority of people don't need supplements."
Dr. Bhuyan continued to say that the one exception to this is vitamin D due to how difficult it is to get it through foods and without spending too much time in the sun. Most Americans are low in vitamin D, but supplements mostly support bone health and fracture prevention among older women.
"That's because the fracture risk is so low for the general population already. Taking vitamin D to boost your bone health ends up doing very little," she said.
And lastly, the one vitamin that Dr. Bhuyan does recommend taking is prenatal vitamins for women who are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant. They contain folic acid, which can prevent fetal birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, as well as iron, which she said many young women don't have enough of.
You Can Skip Vitamins If You Live a Healthy Lifestyle
Dr. Bhuyan explained that generally, it's not necessary to take vitamins if you're eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. It may be a better idea to put that money toward a gym membership or fresh foods instead.
Not All Vitamins Are Trustworthy
Because vitamins and supplements don't have to be approved by the FDA, there's the lack of regulation to worry about. "We can't even be sure that vitamins contain the exact right about of vitamin that is advertised," she said. "Patients have to be very savvy themselves and do a lot of research through independent, reliable sources."
It's Possible to Take Too Many Vitamins
Many people might assume that vitamins are inherently safe, but there are dangerous health risks to taking too many. Excess calcium, for example, can build up plaque in your arteries while too much vitamin E is linked to increased rates of heart failure. Beta-carotene can also increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers, according to Dr. Bhuyan.
Overall, your health will not suffer if you take vitamins, and taking them (in suggested amounts) won't hurt you, either. But keep in mind that it largely depends on the individual, so consider your dietary choices and personal health. Vegan? You may need B12. Have heavy periods? Some iron will probably do you good. Be sure to talk to your primary care provider for your own individualized plan.