Are Vitamin Drinks a Bad Idea?, New York Times, Well Blog, 30 January 2015
The vitamins supplied in these drinks are on top of vitamins people get in supplements, which are on top of vitamins people get in fortified foods, which are on top of vitamins that occur naturally in foods.
More than half of all adults in the United States take a multivitamin or dietary supplement. Bread, milk and other foods are often fortified with folic acid, niacin and vitamins A and D.
A study published in July found that many people are exceeding the safe limits of nutrient intakes established by the Institute of Medicine.
Some of these products promised improvements in energy and immune function, while others promoted “performance and emotional benefits related to nutrient formulations that go beyond conventional nutritional science,” the researchers said.
“It’s very hard to figure out the logic the manufacturers are using to do this fortification,” [Valerie Tarasuk, nutrition science professor, faculty of medicine at University of Toronto] said. “There’s no way that the things that are being added are things that anybody needs or stands to benefit from.”
In nature, there are checks and balances that prevent overconsumption of vitamins and antioxidants, she said. It is hard to ingest too much niacin, for example, by eating whole foods like mushrooms, fish or avocados, which are natural sources of niacin that come bundled with fiber, protein and fat. But someone can easily exceed the daily recommendation for niacin with a single bottle of “formula 50” Vitaminwater, which contains 120 percent of the daily value for it (along with 120 percent of the values for vitamins C, B6, B12 and pantothenic acid).
“These fat soluble vitamins are very stable,” [Mara Vitolins, registered dietitian and professor of epidemiology] said. “They’re not released in the urine. If you are over-consuming them [fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, K], you can raise your levels gradually over time and get into trouble with liver function. You have to be very careful with them.”
“We don’t know what the effects of chronic exposure may be. With these products, we’ve embarked on a national experiment,” said Dr. Tarasuk.
Supplements (vitamin and energy drinks, pills, and powders are all dietary supplements) are marketed to either enhance some physical or mental attribute or as insurance, a way to fill perceived gaps in our diets.
But there are risks in:
- Taking too much of a vitamin or nutrient (e.g. taking just 400 IUs of vitamin E was found to increase the risk of prostate cancer in healthy men).
- Reducing absorption of other nutrients (e.g. zinc interferes with iron absorption, calcium interferes with magnesium and chromium absoption).
- The quality of the supplement (they have been shown to contain bug parts, oxidized fats, GMOs, plastics, pesticides, heavy metals like mercury and lead, mold, bacteria, artificial colors/flavors/sweeteners, preservatives, sodium, excess sugar.)
- Believing the label (what a label says is in the bottle is not always what is in the bottle).
- Side effects of either the active ingredient or chemicals the supplement is mixed or packaged with.
No government body, including the FDA, tests that supplements are safe and effective. So all of these risks are real.
Here’s a chart of side effects from my post, Unsafe Supplements And The Revolving Door Between The Supplement Industry And FDA: