Half of the entire American population consumer vitamin supplements on a regular basis, in a booming business worth approximately $25 billion.
However, are vitamin supplements healthy, harmless and safe as many believe? Or could they be doing more harm to your health than good?
According to a report by The Economist, the quality of these supplements and reliability of claims by manufacturers are not verified by any independent body, and there are countless reports of severe adverse reactions that include cancer, herpes and death.
The Economist reports:
In 2013 women taking vitamin B sprouted facial hair—it turned out their pills contained steroids.
That year consumers on a diet pill developed acute hepatitis. One died and at least three had liver transplants. The market is also stocked with supplements that claim to do good, despite meagre evidence.
There are indeed supplements that are beneficial. For example, women who plan to become pregnant should take folic acid.
The elderly should take vitamin B12, as they have trouble digesting the natural form. But the evidence for most supplements is mixed at best.
Beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, seems to raise the risk of lung cancer among smokers. A study in 2011 reported that men taking vitamin E were more likely to develop prostate cancer.
Two studies have suggested that multivitamins may lower the risk of cancer in men; another found a link between multivitamins and fewer deaths from heart disease in women.
But in 2013 a trio of papers reported that multivitamins showed no clear effect on heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline or death.