When trying to look after your health, taking a multivitamin can seem like an easy way to give your body a boost of goodness.
But experts in Australia have questioned the efficacy of multivitamins, saying they have “no benefit” to consumers and only line the pockets of manufacturers.
Australian Medical Association president, Michael Gannon, suggested some multivitamins pass straight through our bodies, meaning ultimately we just have “very expensive urine”.
Meanwhile Professor Ken Harvey from Monash University told ABC: “What you need is a good diet, you’re pissing the money down the toilet for no benefit.”
But when it comes to the UK, should we be taking multivitamins or are they just a waste of time?
According to the NHS, most people don’t need to take vitamin supplements and are able to get all the vitamins and minerals they need – such as iron, calcium and vitamin C – by eating a balanced diet.
It recommends avoiding multivitamins that come as effervescent or fizzy tablets, as “they can contain up to 1g of salt per tablet”.
The Department of Health does recommend certain supplements for some groups of people who are at risk of deficiency, such as pregnant women.
However, nutrition consultant Charlotte Stirling-Reed points out that we “don’t live in an ideal world” so some supplements may have a place, even if we don’t necessarily need to take multivitamins containing multiple substances.
“Many people, especially teenage girls, do not get enough in the way of vitamins and minerals in their diet day to day,” she told The Huffington Post UK.
“Additionally, many people do not eat a balanced diet, with research suggesting that in the UK, only about 1% of the population actually follows dietary guidelines.
“On top of this we have a UK-wide recommendation for vitamin D supplements, as current surveys show that many of us are not getting enough from sunlight alone. In the UK everyone is recommended to take around 10mcg of vitamin D daily throughout the winter months.”
She added that if you’re considering having a baby or are pregnant, it’s recommended that women take folic acid supplements “to prevent the risk of neural tube defects for a baby too”.
As far as taking a multivitamin, she believes it “can be useful as a safeguard if your diet is lacking” but it will not act as a substitute to a balanced diet.
“If you are choosing a multivitamin, do your research and check the levels of nutrients such as vitamin D and iron that are included. Additionally avoid taking multiple supplements as you can put yourself at risk of overdosing,” she said.
“During pregnancy a supplement containing vitamin D and a supplement containing folic acid are recommended, sometimes a GP may also recommend taking iron if mum’s stores are low.
“Additionally it’s important during pregnancy to avoid taking supplements containing vitamin A. Therefore, during pregnancy taking a specific pregnancy multivitamin can also be helpful.”
While Gannon and Harvey said some multivitamins just lead to “expensive urine”, Stirling-Reed said whether or not we urinate the vitamins and minerals all away will depend on a number of factors.
“Ultimately some of the vitamins and minerals in a multivitamin may end up as waste, but some of them will also be utilised by the body depending on needs and your body’s current levels,” she said.
“For example, folic acid supplements have been proven to prevent neural tube defects in a growing baby, and so folic acid in a supplement is likely to be utilised by the body.
“Fat soluble vitamins like vitamin D and iron, which are likely to be low in certain population groups, are also less likely to end up as waste.”
Above all, she said it’s important to talk to your GP before taking any supplements.