Vitamin supplements: a waste of time?

New research suggests that for many of us, taking vitamin supplements is a waste of time. But what is the truth behind the headlines?
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Multivitamins have no clear benefit to you if you are well-nourished according to research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Moreover, supplementing your diet might even be harmful if used to treat chronic health conditions. But when you delve into the story further, it doesn’t seem quite as clear cut.

‘Food supplements are not designed to treat or prevent chronic disease, so it is hardly surprising that giving them to people whose heart attack is linked to a lifetime of poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking and increasing weight provides little benefit,” says GP and medical nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer. “Food supplements are only designed to do what their name suggest – supplement food intake.”

So how likely is it that we can reach recommended nutrient intakes from our modern diets? ‘Diet should always come first,” continues Dr Brewer, ‘but the National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) consistently shows that significant numbers of the population do not get all the vitamins and mineral they need from their food. Significant numbers of people may be well-nourished in that they are overweight, but NDNS data shows, for example, that a significant percentage of adults do not obtain even the Lower Reference Nutrient Intake (LRNI) for some micronutrients, especially vitamin A, iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium, zinc and selenium.’ The LRNI is the minimum level of a nutrient needed to prevent a deficiency disease. ‘Even when average intakes seem adequate, it is important to remember that an average is only an average – half the population could be getting more and half getting less. Many people, including myself, chose to safeguard against deficiency by taking a daily vitamin and mineral supplement to maintain general health and energy levels,” concludes Dr Brewer.

“For those that avoid eating certain foods or food groups, or who are cutting back to lose weight, supplements are especially important,” says Healthspan’s Head of Nutrition Robert Hobson. “A healthy diet forms the bedrock of staying healthy with supplements playi a helpful role for specific groups who are at risk of a particular deficiency and those who wish to ensure a basic daily level of nutritional support.  If you have any concerns or are taking any other medication, you should consult your GP.”

For more information about the role of nutritional supplements in good health visit

Last modified: June 10, 2021

Written by 3:10 pm Nutrition