‘Pie hole’, colloquial for one’s mouth, is believed to have evolved in the USA in the 1980s from the British expression ‘cake hole’ (coined in the mid 20th century). Pie hole refers to a mouth, as in: Shut your pie hole or, in this case: Put less in your pie hole.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Taking a Multivitamin? Yup, Still Gonna Die

Multivitamins and supplements for children and adults: they’re gummy, flavoured and colourfully packed gems that cost you about $20 per month, that’s $240 a year. For some, like me, they are the bane of existence. Interested? You should be! Join me, as we explore the science behind fleecing your pocketbook with colourful candy-coated promises.

Multivitamin ads say things like, “you’re missing out”, but on what exactly? Taking multivitamins gives you something.... I like to call it ‘expensive urine’. Your body can only absorb so much when it comes to vitamins and minerals; much of the rest is destined for, well, your toilet bowl.

Eating a diet of fast and/or processed food will likely leave you below your recommended vitamin and mineral intake; but taking a multivitamin doesn’t make up for it. It’s the same as someone who only eats McDonalds saying they are going on a two-week ‘cleanse’. The notion of undoing a years’ worth of poor eating in two weeks is fantasy.
Are you dead without it?

Recent studies suggest the excessive dose of vitamins and minerals present in supplements can even have adverse health effects. One study found that men taking vitamin C pills (usually 1000mg per tablet) were twice as likely to develop kidney stones as men who didn’t take any supplements at all.

When you consider how high a 1000mg dose is compared to the recommended values (see below), it’s no surprise there are side effects. After all, your kidneys are the organs tasked with filtering out this huge excess. Now that’s a real pisser.

Recommended vitamin C intake varies between countries, for adults in Australia and the US it’s between 45mg and 90mg per day. For reference, a medium orange contains 70mg of vitamin C and half a cup (one serve) of cooked broccoli contains 50mg. Let’s not forget that when you eat the actual food, there are other vitamins and minerals in there too, not to mention fibre.

Recent investigations into calcium supplements have demonstrated their link to increases in heart attacks. The interesting part was that heart attacks were associated only with calcium from supplements, not an increase in calcium from food. As pretty as that shiny calcium pill is, you might be better off putting a glass of cow juice in your pie hole.

The scary part is that over half of US adults use supplements. Conventional wisdom would expect multivitamin poppers to take these pills to fill gaps in their nutrition from food, right? Wrong! The study found users believed the pills would improve their ‘overall health’. Additionally, less than one quarter of these supplements were actually recommended by health care professionals. I guess there is a sucker born every minute.

To add yet more insult to injury, over 20 other studies show multivitamin treatments had no effect whatsoever on risk of death. The only ‘overall health’ these foolish mortals improve is the healthy bottom line of multivitamin manufacturers.

After we’ve explored the lack of evidence supporting the use of these pills, let’s talk about marketing. I personally think it’s unethical for multivitamin manufacturers to sell their products on the premise that you or your children need it. Especially when we’ve just discussed the multitude of evidence indicating otherwise.

Multivitamin ads for kids often use guilt to manipulate parents into thinking they must buy the product if they care about their children’s nutrition and wellbeing. Heck, when I see those ads, I’m infuriated because the guilt almost works on me. I also take issue with kid’s vitamins looking like lollies/candies. This doesn’t set a good precedent; medications, even of the quack variety, are not gummy bears. Pretty soon they’ll sell you multivitamin ice cream to wash down your vitamin water.

Finally, I would like to end on an anecdote from a lecturer at UCLA, whose class inspired me to pursue education and a career in dietetics: If your car has a flat tyre, (or “tire” if you’re American) do you take it in and replace all four tyres, changes the hoses, replace the brake pads, get it painted, have it waxed, buffed and polished? Or do you just replace the one damaged tyre? If medical tests show your vitamin D or iron is low, your doctor will recommend that specific supplement… you don’t need a multivitamin, you just need to replace that one tyre.

Save that $20 a month and buy some fresh produce to put in your pie hole.

Further Reading:
Three excellent supplement blog articles by Associate Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics at Deakin University, Tim Crowe:


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