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Should You Use Supplements or not?

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According to a survey conducted by the Council for Responsible Nutrition. A staggering 77% of U.S. adults reported taking dietary supplements over the previous year in 2019. And considering there are more than 90,000 products on the market, you may be wondering if it’s more beneficial to take a daily multivitamin, individual vitamins — or both or none at all.

The answer: It all comes down to your diet.

Are supplements a waste of your time and money?

The answer is not so cut and dried. In a Daily mail article, we examine the for and against arguments to this age-old question.

A major British study has recently discovered that vitamin pills have no health benefits and are a waste of money. Researchers from Oxford University tracked 20,000 people over five years.

Some were given real vitamins, others got dummy pills – yet there was no difference in the incidence of cancer, heart disease or stroke. So are the supplements useless? We examine both sides of the argument below.

Against Arguments

  • Vitamins in our food certainly protect us from illness. A recent study reported in The Lancet found that increasing daily intake of vitamin C from fruit and vegetables by just 50g – two pieces of broccoli or fruit – reduced the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, heart attack and cancer.
  • In the Heart Protection Study at Oxford University, researchers tracked 20,000 people. Half were given daily doses of vitamin C, vitamin E and beta carotene for five years, the other half were given dummy pills. Those taking the vitamins had no more protection against heart attack, stroke or cancer than those taking the dummy pills and there was no extra benefit to eye or bone health.

  • The vitamins were absorbed but they did nothing,’ says Dr Jane Armitage of Oxford’s clinical trial services unit. The researchers say this is because the body gets all the vitamins it needs from food.
  • However, Kim Jobst, professor of Integrated Health at Oxford Brookes University, argues that many supplements are synthetic and in forms that cannot be used by the body.
  • Eric Llewellyn, biochemist at NDS Healthcare, a supplements company specialising in food-grade vitamins, says some supplements could even have a negative effect.

  • “Thousands of women take supplementary calcium for protection from osteoporosis,” he explains. “However, for calcium to enter the bones, it needs to be attached to a phosphate molecule. When the supplement enters the blood, the body takes phosphate out of the bones to stick it to the calcium. The bones end up with less phosphate and no added calcium, so the calcium supplement is actually making the bones weaker.”

For Arguments

  • The main argument for using supplements is that we do not get enough nutrients from food – recommended daily allowances (RDAs) are just measurements of the minimum needed to prevent a physiological deficiency, rather than to maintain optimal health.
  • Nutritionists argue that optimal quantities, which would reduce the risks of key diseases such as cancer, are probably much higher – from twice to ten times the RDA.

  • In reality, obtaining these quantities through food alone, they argue, is almost impossible, now that most food we eat is nutritionally impoverished through intensive farming and processing.

  • “Levels of key minerals, such as potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron in our soils, have fallen by almost 50% over the past 50 years,” says Patrick Holford, founder of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition.

  • “In their natural state, vegetable oils contain vitamin E, but most processed cooking oils contain none. Apples can be stored for five months or more before they reach the supermarket, meaning that levels of vitamin C can drop to almost zero.”

  • “There is no question that supplements work,” argues Mr Holford “Hundreds of studies have been published in well respected scientific journals showing that vitamins can prevent a range of illnesses.”


So why did the Oxford trial show supplements have no effect? It’s not unknown for scientific trials to give contradictory results.

Their outcomes derive from what symptoms researchers record and the types of measurement they take. Here are some examples –

Measurement Used

One study might assess heart attack risk by measuring total cholesterol levels; another may measure the actual incidence of heart attack.

Different Doses

Different doses of vitamins are given, too – in the Oxford study, Vitamin C doses of 250mg were given. In other studies that have shown a therapeutic effect for Vitamin C, doses have been much higher – at around 1 000mg.

Quality of Supplements

The quality of vitamins used is also vital. ‘The vitamins used in this study were synthetic and many synthetic versions are not as powerful as their organic counterparts,’ says Dr Annette Hudson, a physiologist and adviser to leading supplement companies.

The debate continues, but the reality is that our food quality has declined over the years and not everyone has their recommended daily allowance of nutrition to maintain optimal health. We now look at whether you should take multivitamin vs single – or both?

Why You May Consider Taking a Multivitamin

According to the CRN’s survey, a multivitamin ranked as the most popular supplement among adults (58%). But, perhaps that number should be much higher because nearly everyone would benefit from taking a multivitamin.

According to Vitamin shop owner, Brittany Michels, RDN, LDN,

“I have met very few individuals that consistently meet baseline nutritional needs on a daily basis,” she says.

Certain Diets

Those who follow an eating pattern that either eliminates or greatly restricts entire food groups — such as

  • vegan
  • keto
  • low-carb,
  • gluten-free or dairy-free

should consider adding a multivitamin to their regimen in order to fill in any nutritional gaps, Michels says.


Nutritional deficiencies related to hypoglycaemia may be met by taking supplements, including a daily multivitamin that contains vitamins A, C, E, B-complex vitamins and trace minerals, such as magnesium, calcium, zinc and selenium.

Digestive Issues

People who deal with digestive issues, food intolerances and/or malabsorption issues [such as Celiac disease] would also benefit from taking a multivitamin,” says Michels.

Why You May Consider Taking Single Supplements

Your typical food choices will determine the individual supplements that may be necessary in your wellness plan.

“Every restrictive diet has a risk of nutrient deficiencies, and the nutrient levels affected would be based on the restricted or eliminated food group(s),” explains Michels. “This is why some find taking single supplements, in addition to a multivitamin, beneficial in meeting baseline nutritional requirements.”

Here are some examples –

vitamin D image

Vitamin D

The majority of her Midwest clients are deficient in vitamin D, a nutrient our body naturally produces when exposed to sunlight.

“Unfortunately, most multivitamins do not offer enough vitamin D to keep our vitamin D levels in the normal range,” Michels says. “So a singular vitamin D, in addition to a multivitamin, is a must.” (Vitamin D is the second most-taken supplement in the United States, according to the CRN survey.)

dairy image


Another go-to singular supplement is calcium, being that numerous Americans fail to eat enough calcium-rich foods. “Yet because calcium binds to many of the minerals in a multivitamin supplement, multivitamins tend to offer low amounts,” says Michels.

In Summary

According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, nearly 75%  of Americans have an eating pattern that is low in vegetables, fruits, dairy and oils, as well as high in foods that contain added sugars, saturated fats and sodium — which likely means that vital vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes could be added via supplementation. This probably applies to other parts of the world as diets are similar.

While both multivitamins and single supplements can offer nutritional benefits, the National Institutes of Health recommends talking with your doctor or health care practitioner on the types of supplements, as well as the proper dosage, that will suit your specific needs.

Contact Balanced Healing for your personalised nutritional and supplementation advice and wellness plan.


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