When it comes to our health, just about everyone is looking for an extra boost—particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. That desire has helped vitamins and supplements grow into a $150 billion worldwide industry. If you’re considering taking a daily vitamin—or are taking one now—it’s important to know there are clear things vitamins can and can’t do, as indicated by decades of research. And if you take them the wrong way, they can be harmful. Read on to find out what taking a daily vitamin does to your body—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.
“If you’re like everybody else in the world, and you don’t eat a perfect diet every day, a multivitamin is going to fill in the little deficits you have on a daily basis,” Kathryn Boling, MD, a family medicine doctor with Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, told ETNT Health. “And if you’re OK paying money for something that you’re mostly going to pee out, but it’s going to fill in those tiny little deficits, then take a multivitamin. I do.”
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If your daily multivitamin contains vitamins C and D (and most do), those nutrients may support your immune system. “If you’re deficient in vitamin D, that does have an impact on your susceptibility to infection,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease specialist, in an interview last fall. “I would not mind recommending—and I do it myself—taking vitamin D supplements.”
He added: “The other vitamin that people take is vitamin C because it’s a good antioxidant, so if people want to take a gram or so of vitamin C, that would be fine.”
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You might erase potential benefits from vitamins if you chase them with soda and sugary snacks, or use them as justification for too many cheat meals. “Supplements are never a substitute for a balanced, healthful diet,” said Dr. JoAnn Manson, a preventative medicine specialist, in an interview with Harvard Health. “And they can be a distraction from healthy lifestyle practices that confer much greater benefits.”
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If your vitamin contains high doses of certain nutrients, that can cause problems. Most vitamins are water-soluble, meaning they can’t build up in the body because any excess is cleared by urine. But fat-soluble vitamins — including A, D, E and K — can build up in the body and may be dangerous at high levels, particularly A and E.
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If you’re taking multivitamins for protection against serious disease, you should know that the science isn’t quite there yet. In 2018, researchers from Johns Hopkins analyzed studies involving almost half a million people; they determined that taking multivitamins doesn’t lower your risk of heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline, or early death. Their advice: Don’t waste your money on multivitamins—get the vitamins and minerals you need from food. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.