Myth vs Reality – Can Multivitamins and Supplements be Dangerous?

Myth vs Reality - Can Supplements and Multivitamins be Dangerous?
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The supplement industry is of the most progressive industries in the world. It is projected to grow to a whopping 160% of its current size by 2022. 52% of American adults took some type of supplements back in 2012. This figure was provided by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The same survey reported that multivitamins were in use by every third person.

Since the dawn of time, humans have been striving to find a way for long-life and the supplement business is no different. If a pill can help you stay healthy and have a long life, everyone is going to buy it.

Doctor’s Advice on Supplements

Not all supplements are optional. Some are the basic need for certain individuals. Females, especially in the child-bearing years, are advised to rake up folic acid, vitamin D, and calcium.

The need for supplements is based on science, but the use of them has its roots in marketing and business. Due to it being a multi-billion-dollar industry there are some misunderstandings about the need and use of supplements. Most of these pertain to some irresponsible marketing practices.

More Is Not Better

More is not better, definitely not in the case of vitamins. Conversely, more can actually be dangerous. As these are available as non-prescription drugs, the best bet in regulating its use is educating people about it.

Too much of certain vitamins can actually toxify the body as the body cannot effectively remove the excess from the body. Excessive quantities of vitamin C or Calcium can cause stomach aches and diarrhea. On the other hand, calcium and vitamin D overdoses can lead to hypercalcemia, a condition that can weaken bones, damage the heart, and kidneys.

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Mixing Up Multivitamins with Medication

All the drugs are natural. Even those that people abuse. Supplements are the vitamins and minerals that a body needs. These are usually obtained from plants and can be helpful, but considering them nature-based and hence problem-free can be a mistake.

Supplements are medicines, and as such, cannot be mixed up with other prescription drugs. They might intensify or suppress the effects of prescription medicines. According to a study, magnesium, St. John’s wort, iron, calcium, and ginkgo based supplements had the greatest number of interactions with medicines.

Health and Multivitamin Supplements

Some individuals believe the marketing campaigns by the pharmaceutical companies making the supplements. They think that supplements might help them in maintaining great cardiovascular health. But, there is no clinical evidence to support any of these claims.

There is a small probability that the vitamin B family can reduce the chance of stroke.

Similarly, there is not enough evidence available to support any claim that vitamin C can prevent a cold is weak.

In a 2013 study, scientists found that vitamin C supplements did not prevent the common cold. Although the prevention was unsuccessful, it did reduce the severity of it, and the cold did not last as long.

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The study also concluded that vitamin C would be great for people who overwork their bodies. Like those who exercise excessively or run a marathon.

Another such health claim made by the supplement companies is that it can prevent cancer. Scientists and researchers have actually attempted to check whether the claim holds true or not. The findings from the research were published and conclude that there is no concrete evidence linking vitamin D to a beneficial anti-cancer effect.

A 2018, randomized, placebo-controlled study also concluded with a similar stance that vitamin D does not lower the incidence of invasive cancer or cardiovascular problems.

Prebiotics and Probiotics as Supplements

In recent years, probiotics and prebiotics have become notoriously popular. People associate them with all sorts of claims.

Probiotics supplements contain microorganisms, whereas prebiotics supplements contain compounds designed to promote gut bacteria. Undoubtedly, these bacteria are great for health, but the science involving the microbiome is still too young to provide us with conclusive results.

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Another point of prebiotics and probiotics use is that although the field is young, it is highly complex and involves such a great amount of variables. However, this complexity makes it difficult to work on.

In a study, researchers concluded that probiotics can help with numerous health issues. These include but are not limited to diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, etc.

However, outside of a few specific conditions, there is little evidence that probiotics or prebiotics can benefit health.

Of course, with time, as more research is conducted, the issue will become more clear. But marketing prebiotic and probiotic supplements as “gut health” and “digestive health” is not supported by science.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) asserts that there is no surety as to what quantity of prebiotics and probiotics the body needs.

Like other supplements, these are not prescription drugs, and hence they expose the public to unwarranted usage of unwanted supplements.

Antioxidants can Improve Life, Not Extend it

Antioxidants are compounds that prevent oxidation from happening. Popular antioxidants include vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and carotenoids.

Most fruits and vegetables have an abundance of antioxidants. As these promote good health, it may be assumed that antioxidants might be one of the reasons why they are so good for us.

An NCCIH study explains that people indeed have a lower risk of diseases when they base their diet on fruits and vegetables. But, if this is because of antioxidants, it isn’t yet clear.

A study actually points towards a 4% increase in the chance of death by taking antioxidants. However, the number is not very material but still, further research can answer some questions about it.


Granted, supplements containing Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are great for good health. These substances are abundant in different fruits and vegetables. Although, a balanced diet is the best, if that isn’t your thing supplements can always help.

Supplements being non-prescription drugs are not regulated as they should be. Your doctor should always know what extra medication their patients may be taking.

Adeena Tariq Lari
The author is a graduate of dental surgery from the Dow University Health Sciences, Karachi. She has an academic background in content writing as well as English literature, giving her an edge in the field. Adeena is always curious about physical and mental health. She is always passionate about research and delivering high-quality reliable content to users.