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According to some recent research,

Vitamin supplements almost never have health benefits, are a waste of money and could even be harmful, a group of scientists said in a damning indictment of the industry.

Are they?

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    I suspect the answer is going to be different for healthy, "well-nourished Britons", and those who are the unhealthy due to vitamin-deficiencies (due to diet or other health reasons). By analogy, antibiotics have no health benefits for people not suffering from bacterial infection. Is it worth editing the question to match? – Oddthinking Apr 13 '14 at 13:49
  • The same can be said of any drug, by the way. This is why they are only prescribed in certain situations, by trained professionals--so that they are (ideally) only used in the minority of cases when they actually are helpful, and when they will cause the least amount of relative harm. – Flimzy Apr 13 '14 at 14:48
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    Unless you are eating regularly the food groups that contain naturally the vitamins required for good health and many only work in combination with others eg vit d and calcium then yes obviously specific vitamins are necessary...perfect example is VIT B for alcoholics where as part of their recovery it is injected in large doses. – cea Apr 14 '14 at 8:58
  • I will note that I have personally benefited from the supplement D-ribose, which I take in fairly large amounts daily. I suffer from a genetic disorder known as Myoadenylate Deaminase Deficiency leading to pain and muscle degeneration, especially following moderate exercise. The D-ribose largely prevents these symptoms. I've encountered two other people who similarly benefit from this supplement. – Daniel R Hicks Jun 29 '18 at 22:41
  • (It seems to me that a big part of the question is whether we are talking about "normal" people or those with some disorder.) – Daniel R Hicks Jun 29 '18 at 22:42
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This is a complex issue. What the public health authorities are saying is correct. Vitamin supplements have health benefits for certain groups of people in certain instances and there are many studies to show this. Vitamin D and Calcium are often recommended for people at risk of osteoporosis. Some people may have digestive disorders for example that also benefit from vitamins. But as shown in the studies in your link, multivitamins taken by most people are not helpful, and some supplements can even be harmful. High levels of folic acid will cause increased risk of cancer and taking vitamin E may be harmful as well, especially if it is combined with smoking, aspirin or blood thinners. Iron overload is the most common genetic disorder among whites and often goes undiagnosed for many years causing destruction of the liver. Taking extra iron when you don't have an iron deficiency may be harmful for many people.

Many people take supplements that are not strictly vitamins, as well. Many haven't been tested using large clinical tests, so its hard to know if they work or may be dangerous. Usually when they are tested, they are shown not to work. That is why the doctors are saying they are a waste of money. Some do work, though. Probiotics for example reduce the risk of death for intensive care patients. This study says they can be used to reduce death from C Dif, a very terrible infection contracted in hospitals.

So, personally if I want to know if a vitamin, supplement or herb has been tested, is safe, effective and has drug interactions, these are a few sites I like. (This is of course not medical advice. Please talk to your doctor about the supplements you are taking.)

MedlinePlus Supplements
National Agricultural Library

  • When you take a supplement and notice within 30 minutes a dramatic reduction of pain (as was the case for me and D-ribose), it's hard to argue that they don't work. – Daniel R Hicks Jun 29 '18 at 11:43
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    @DanielRHicks: As far as I know, placebos are fairly effective at reducing pain. – sumelic Jun 29 '18 at 23:04
  • @sumelic - There's a difference between "I think it's working" and "Wow!!" – Daniel R Hicks Jun 29 '18 at 23:16
  • Daniel, you have a diagnosed deficiency. That is different from most people who take supplements. – swbarnes2 Sep 18 '18 at 19:38

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