Vitamins: The good and the bad

Vitamins. Everyone seems to love them. The very name urges a feeling of positiveness and health. Derived from the Latin word vita, meaning “life”, vitamins are necessary for the conversion of food into energy. Millions of people believe that taking daily vitamins makes them feel better and live longer.

Till date, we have been introduced to 13 vitamins. If deficient they lead to various diseases such as, beriberi, pellagra, scurvy and rickets (caused, respectively, by deficiencies of vitamins B1, B3, C and D).

Health Benefits

Vitamins perform key functions:

1.Vitamin C builds immunity and connective tissue.
2.Vitamin A enhances immunity and helps growth.
3.B-vitamins are essential for energy.
4.Vitamin D strengthens bones.

We would die without vitamins and fall seriously ill when we don’t get the right amount.

Present in low levels in our bodies, but essential to every aspect of our health, vitamins are substances our bodies cannot make. Therefore, they must be obtained through diet.

However the amount of vitamins we need has been a debate forever. Nutrition experts argue that all people need is the recommended daily allowance (RDA), typically found in a routine diet. Industry representatives argue that foods don’t contain enough vitamins and that larger quantities are needed.

Almost one in three people in the UK take a vitamin supplement every day, according to the Food Standards Authority, while 15 per cent of us turn to high-dose supplements for a quick fix.

The fact is that the health benefits of vitamin pills are increasingly being brought into question.

Multivitamins vs Food

While some studies show that vitamin supplementations have a range of benefits from enhanced energy to better fertility, others suggest supplements are harmful. New evidence is emerging that these unnatural forms of vitamin could do more harm than good.

Despite being labelled ‘natural’, over 90 per cent of vitamin supplements on sale are synthetic. ‘In nature, vitamins come packaged with many other molecules including minerals and co-factors,’ explains Dr Phillip Maffetone, nutritional researcher and author of ‘The Big Book of Health and Fitness’.

‘These enable the body to use them. Since synthetic vitamins are isolated and are not recognized by the body, they are often excreted in urine or stored in fat.’

In addition, synthetic vitamins may produce harmful side-effects. The synthetic version of vitamin A, retinol palmitate, for example, is significantly more toxic than the natural form.

Best ways to take Vitamins?

‘A varied diet including fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, meat, fish pulses and eggs should contain enough vitamins for health,’ says Helena Gibson-Moore of the British Nutrition Foundation.

However if your lifestyle doesn’t allow such a diet, consider taking a supplement but make sure it is non-synthetic and food grade.

Superfood supplements from nutrient-rich natural sources provide a range of vitamins in their natural form, which are easy for the body to absorb.

When to take vitamin pills?

1.Pregnant women or women who are trying to conceive
2.Darker skinned people and over 65
3.Infants till 5 years of age
4.Those undergoing intense physical sport training

Supplements of any kind can be helpful and health-enhancing or harmful and a waste of money.
It all depends on what you take, the amount, how natural it is and whether your body can absorb it.

There’s a lot to be said and it still always is a dicey call.