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Do Vitamin and Mineral Supplements Really Work?

Updated on December 13, 2011

The dietary supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, supplements, sports drinks and similar supplements intended for the sports nutrition segment of the market make up a significant portion of those billions.

Despite the obviously large customer base taking vitamins, minerals and other dietary supplements, the FDA uses a more relaxed set of rules to regulate these products, and scientific evidence on their effectiveness wobbles from one side to the other. So the question is, do vitamin and mineral supplements really work



You’ve seen the ads; taking a multivitamin everyday is supposed to optimize health and possibly prevent common diseases, even stave off heart disease and cancer. There is little evidence that multivitamins work, and what does exist is conflicting.

On one side of the argument, researchers believe a multivitamin could help a person with a nutritient deficient diet. On the other side, researchers believe people in developed countries don’t receive any benefit from taking a multivitamin, and may be harmed by adding these elements to an already vitamin-fortified diet.

Who is right? It seems logical that someone who has a poor diet would benefit from taking a supplement that makes up for any deficiencies, but is this deficiency because of dietary choices? If so, why not start by adding more fruits, vegetables and nuts to the diet, making sure they have adequate quality protein, and avoiding junk food?

As a person eating an adequate diet in the United States, many foods are already fortified with vitamins to prevent deficiencies (or market products.) Research suggests that taking excessive amounts of vitamins on top of this may lead to health problems, including cancer.

Calcium and Vitamin D

While milk and a few other products are fortified with vitamin D, research suggests many Americans are still deficient in this vitamin. Fortunately, a few minutes of sunlight on the skin is enough to give us our daily dosage. If that is not manageable, supplementing the diet with 800-2000 IU should do the trick. Fatty fish is also a good source of this vitamin.

While scientists are conflicted about certain vitamins and minerals, there is a consensus that taking calcium will help people who are deficient in, or do not produce enough of it. The research seems to single out women who do not eat a calcium rich diet, but calcium promotes bone health, and that is good for everyone.

Incidentally, if you are taking fish oil, keep it up. This is another supplement researchers agree will contribute to good heart health. Then again, eating fatty fish will provide the same benefit, and taste better.


The buzz around taking antioxidants to reduce the number of ‘free radicals’ in the body, and thus reduce the risk of certain life-threatening diseases, is enormous. While there is some truth to the idea of free radicals contributing to the aging process of the body, clinical trials have not supported the theory that taking antioxidant supplements prevents this.

In cases where smokers are taking vitamin E or beta-carotene, the risk of cancer actually increases. But this brings us to another point; if a person has a healthy diet and lifestyle, they probably do not need vitamin and mineral supplements.

Antioxidants are derived (to name a handful) from foods like berries, green vegetables and certain seeds and nuts. Instead of taking a supplement, one could go straight to the whole food source, assuming it is available.

Sports Supplements

Ergogenic aids, or those taken to enhance performance, are numerous. Most have no evidence backing them up to prove their worth. Some are downright dangerous (steroids, for example.) There are a few which have been studied extensively, and can enhance performance when taken as part of a supervised training and nutritional program.


Hundreds of studies have been done on this substance, and a majority conclude that creatine, an amino acid, does enhance power, strength and muscle gains when taken for short periods of time (a few days) and in measured doses.

In fact, there may be no performance decreasing (ergolytic) effects from this supplement. This is not to say all the studies done on creatine agree with its benefits. Several research studies have shown it to have little or no effect on athletic performance. Creatine does appear to be relatively safe, though, but it would be a good idea to consult a sports nutritionist before taking it

Protein Supplements

An athlete engaging in strenuous exercise needs from 1.2 to 1.7 g/kg of bodyweight per day, depending on their sport and level of activity. This can be accomplished through a regular healthy diet, but it may not always be the practical option. Timing meals to get adequate protein and carbohydrates soon after exercise is vital to maximizing the effects of training.

When a wholesome meal is not available, a high quality protein bar or shake is a solid substitute. It should be noted, however, a supplement is just that; it does not and should not replace a regular diet with adequate and well-rounded nutrients.

A Well-Rounded Diet

The conclusion of all studies was decisive. An individual’s diet of real foods should be optimized before taking any supplements, which includes fortified foods. Eat whole foods first, fortified foods as a second resort and supplement only when necessary, but never as a substitute for whole, well-rounded nutrition


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    • MosLadder profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Montgomery 

      6 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Hi mary615. Absolutely, and thank you! I am so glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping by!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      6 years ago from Florida

      Hi, this Hub shows as a "related Hub" to the one I just published on the same subject. This is a good, informative Hub and I would like to link it to mine. May I do that? I voted this Hub UP, etc.etc.

    • MosLadder profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Montgomery 

      6 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Thanks for the input Angelme566, Cheers!

    • Angelme566 profile image


      6 years ago

      Very brilliant inputs in here..For me i prefer to eat nutritious foods than taking supplements because some are really so commercially that it really don't yied good effects and mostly they are just sugar coated so looking big and beautiful.

    • MosLadder profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Montgomery 

      7 years ago from Irvine, CA

      bethperry, thanks for your comments. I hadn't considered the possibility of the FDA trying to restrict vitamin usage to prescriptions. I wonder what that would do to prices...?

    • bethperry profile image

      Beth Perry 

      7 years ago from Tennesee

      I enjoyed reading this well-expressed Hub and it did raise some valid considerations. I take vitamins E and C daily to counter-act lupus, as well as bilingual B-12 for lack of intrinsic factor caused by damage by an anti-seizure medication. These vitamins were all recommended to me by my doctors, and while I would never recommend anyone take overdoses of any vitamin I do believe firmly that the FDA is in league with the pharmaceutical industry in steadily pursuing the day when people are required to have prescriptions to obtain vitamins. This end will benefit the pharmaceuticals tremendously, but prove only another unneeded expense for informed patients.

    • MosLadder profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Montgomery 

      7 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Thanks icountthetimes, I agree, basics first. Thanks for commenting, cheers!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      You raise some interesting points here. It seems like we get different guidance every other week as to what vitamins and minerals are good for us. I think you have the right idea by pushing the central point that first and foremost we need to get our diet in order. Beyond that we should aim to fill in the gaps (to help combat vitamin D deficiency etc). Great hub!

    • MosLadder profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Montgomery 

      7 years ago from Irvine, CA

      I agree nifwlseirf, thanks for commenting, cheers!

    • nifwlseirff profile image

      Kymberly Fergusson 

      7 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

      A healthy and varied diet is definitely the best and most important way to meet vitamin needs. I was shocked that one nutritionist I was recommended to, suggested extreme levels of supplement use (instead of managing a healthy diet). I did not return...

      Thanks for a well written hub!

    • MosLadder profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Montgomery 

      7 years ago from Irvine, CA

      Thanks Derdriu! I agree, eating whole foods is a great way to live. Thanks for your wonderful comments!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      MosLadder: What a compelling, logical conclusion to a precise discussion of supplements! You manage to cover all of the bases in clear and succinct ways. There is nothing quite like the delicious tastes and the healthy benefits of eating whole foods.

      Thank you for sharing, etc.,


    • MosLadder profile imageAUTHOR

      Chris Montgomery 

      7 years ago from Irvine, CA

      SEM Pro, well said. As for HI, a new adventure is forthcoming! Happy Holidays to you too, Cheers!

    • SEM Pro profile image

      SEM Pro 

      7 years ago from North America

      YAY - another proper diet advocate! Well written Mo and thanks for the "follow". Voted up although perhaps too well versed to agree with all - especially the "placebo" advocates. i.e. Vegans often don't realize they can only get vit K through Comfrey tea. Although we need little of it, it is the factor that assimilates all the others.

      Anyway, as you've no doubt seen, helping others accept and own responsibility for their natural ability to heal seems a passion we share. Looking forward to reading more of your adventures too - especially to reconnect with my years and love of Hawaii!

      Until the next connection on another hub - hope you have a terrific holiday season :)

    • True Cures profile image

      True Cures 

      7 years ago from Payette Idaho

      I will chime in, the fact remains the vitamins and minerals are completely inconsistent which can only mean one thing. PLACEBO

      They work great for those who use them and enjoy peace of mind from taking a proactive stance in regards to their health however a bad week of stress can end that peace of mind and the products will cease to work.

      I've started more than one hub on placebo but people will not touch it with a ten foot pole. No one wants to know the science behind placebo because it will replace all medicine, especially alternative medicine. Trauma medicine is the only medicine safe from immune science also known as placebo science.

      Look at the ads that have popped up on this hub, those ads are the reason no one is interested in the actual study of placebo or immunity.

      This is a good hub, lets see how honest consumers can be. Can they recognize the truth? Can they give their own immune system credit? Can the come up with a scenario where the science of immunity could be accepted over medicine?

      There is not one disease the human immune system cannot cure, all that is lacking is the knowledge and no one other than myself is willing to provide the knowledge. It is what it is.


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