Science, Now + Beyond

Are vitamins actually a massive waste of money?

Careful, you just might pee them out.

Do you ever look at your entourage of vitamins and think, “Is this really doing me any good?” Do you feel overwhelmed by the recommended doses of vitamins, wondering if all these bottles are really worth your money and time to figure out exactly what and how much to take on a daily basis?

We were wondering the same thing, so we took a look at the effectiveness of your daily multivitamins and compiled this guide to popping the right pills at the right time.

Our bodies have evolved to be experts at absorbing nutrients through food, not in pill form. That means that if you have a healthy and diverse diet, you should be able to get most necessary vitamins and minerals from there. But, our modern diets are drastically different from what we evolved to process because of commercial farming techniques, mineral-free drinking water, nutrient poor milk, and more.

We also face deficiencies because of environmental pollutants, pesticides, exercise, toxins, solvents, and other disruptive factors of modern life. Therefore, most of us do not get the appropriate amounts of micronutrients we need to keep our bodies functioning properly.

Enter vitamin supplements.

Supplements are never intended to replace food intake and the absorption of nutrients through our diets. They are meant to enhance our diets by adding helpful vitamins and minerals as we eat. Vitamin supplements are most easily absorbed when taken with food. And, there are certain pairings that are necessary for absorption to occur at all. For example, if you’re taking a calcium supplement, you better make sure you’re taking it with vitamin D. Otherwise you’ll just end up peeing it out, which is a waste of both your time and your money.

Nutritionist Ben Greenfield has several criteria for his multivitamin regimen. He suggests using capsules, not tablets to help reduce interference of the weird ingredients in tablets (binders, coatings, etc.) and taking vitamins in the morning and the evening to spread out the distribution of nutrient intake throughout the day. This mimics intake from a diet and is better for your system than a single daily dose.

Look at the label!

You should always be aware of the ingredients you’re ingesting. Greenfield highlights the prevalence of “fillers” in many vitamins, like magnesium stearate, often found in the “other ingredients” section of the label. Avoid this nasty filler, which is included in many vitamins to help with the manufacturing process. Unfortunately, it also drastically reduces the absorption rate of nutrients. He also includes wheat, corn, gluten, yeast, egg, dairy products, artificial colors and sweeteners or flavors, lactose, palmitic acid, and stearic acid as ingredients to steer clear of.

Many multivitamins also have pitifully low amounts of certain vitamins you’re trying to get enough of, especially Vitamin D and Vitamin K. Because most people don’t know how much is actually needed in a proper dose, the amounts listed on the label might seem like enough, when in reality we need much higher doses of folate, adaptogens (stress-fighting compounds needed to sleep and balance hormones), and certain vitamins and minerals. For example, proper bone health support, immune system support, and hormone regulation, our bodies need 400mcg per day of Vitamin K and 2000+ IU per day of Vitamin D. For more details, check out Ben Greenfield’s research here.

While many experts still consider the jury to be out on the effectiveness of multivitamins on preventing illness, we do know that certain vitamins have definite benefits. Calcium and vitamin D is essential for bone health and density. Folic acid supplements help decrease the risk of birth defects when taken by women of childbearing age.

While they don’t seem to ward of cancer or heart disease, there is also no proven risk in taking multivitamins. We see greater benefits than drawbacks and hope you consider taking a look at some multivitamins. Just remember to look at the label and choose wisely!

  • Perry Hodgkins Jones

    Staff Writer erry Hodgkins Jone is a published writer, environmental advocate, and non-profit worker with a Master's in Theology and the Environment from Sewanee and a Bachelor's in Political Science from Wellesley College. She lives in Western North Carolina with her husband and two cats.