Eli5: Do vitamins drinks/pills really work


Does it actually work or is the whole thing a placebo

In: Biology

Short answer is yes, although it’s particularly agreed upon by nutritionists that absorbing the nutrients through food itself is a far better method of uptake. Think John’s Hopkins did a study on it a while back.

Quick addendum, that goes for *general* vitamins; there’s plenty of vitamins that make egregious claims (“will boost brain function!”) that aren’t supported by hard science. But for the most part, if you need vitamin C, a vitamin c pill will help.


Your body requires Vitamins and minerals to function. Most people get pretty much all they need without having to take supplements as so many things are “fortified” now. A lot of people are deficient in vitamin D though.

Taking supplements can help to ensure you are never deficient in any nutrients and prevent diseases.

Most do work. Vitamins are vital minerals. Your body can’t make them on it’s own. So if you don’t get them in your diet somehow, eventually you’ll experience problems from the lack of them. [Scurvy](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scurvy) for instance is due to a lack of vitamin C.

The thing is that it’s kinda hard to not get enough vitamins just living a normal life. Lack of vitamins used to be a problem until there was an increased push for [fortified food](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_fortification). Now in most first world countries you’ll most likely get all the vitamins you need so long as you don’t eat the same food every day. Vitamin pills/drinks help make sure you’re not deficient, but in most cases they probably aren’t needed.

Some vitamin products can be a little bit misleading in their claims. For instance one may claim that it provides 300% of your daily vitamin C to really give your body a boost to fight off infections, when your body just needs a little amount of vitamin C for the immune system to function optimally. Any more vitamin C than that doesn’t supercharge the immune system. It is instead promptly removed from your body by the kidneys because too much can cause problems.

Depends on what you mean by “work”. If you have a specific vitamin **deficiency**, then yes, taking the appropriate supplement will remedy that.

Consult your physician if you experience any symptoms.

The other comments are true that *if* you are deficient a vitamin pill will help.

I’m going to give the counter argument, that if you are *not* deficient, because you have a balanced diet, all a vitamin pill will give you is expensive yellow pee.

If a person has vitamin deficiency, a doctor might prescribe vitamin supplements. For everyone else who has access to a normal diet, they should be able to derive the necessary amount of vitamins from their food. Gulping down supplements to overfill your body with excess vitamins provides no significant benefit; these excess levels of vitamins are flushed away as waste by the kidneys.

[Scurvy](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scurvy) is a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C. If you suffer from scurvy, vitamin C supplements (or food high in vitamin C, such as the traditional treatment of lemons) will cure you. If you *don’t* have scurvy because you already have a healthy amount of vitamin C, vitamin C supplements will do absolutely nothing to make you any healthier.

The same is true of all vitamins — if you don’t have enough of a vitamin you will suffer a deficiency, and taking supplements can cure that deficiency. If you aren’t deficient, them at best you will pee out the excess vitamins with no benefit. At worst, you could potentially suffer from [hypervitaminosis](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypervitaminosis), an illness that’s caused by *too much* of a vitamin (most often Vitamin A or D, as those are fat-soluble vitamins and they linger in your body much longer than the other vitamins)

They all do *something*, but it probably won’t work “as advertised”.

These drinks/pills often contain **vitamins** (A, B (there’s 8 of them), C, D, E and K) and also provide **minerals** (Calcium, Iron, Zinc, Magnesium, Iodine and Fluoride). They all help you in different ways, and if you have too little of anything this can be a great way to give the body what it needs. What it doesn’t need, your body pees out.

**Except:** in high doses **Vitamin A** can be toxic, and so can **D**, **E**. These can’t be peed out, and can cause real harm! Take care, especially with “candy-like” vitamins around children (and child-like adults).

While the most common uses for vitamins are pure placebo, your body does actually get the vitamins from them. (Assuming they actually contain it and aren’t falsely advertised) as they’re usually the pure chemical vitamin mixed with a filler powder, (usually something like gelatin or powdered cellulose).

If you’re actually deficient in a vitamin, these supplement are usually quite effective, as it’s literally just the thing you need and some powder. But usually it’s just placebo, like vitamin c for the common cold.

It’s actually not studied that well. Please note I’m not saying it’s not studied at all, I’m saying it’s not studied that well. I’ll be using just vitamin C here as an example, but this applies to all vitamins.

There is no medical reason to just give people ridiculous amounts of vitamin C, nor is there a medical reason to give people other controlled amounts of vitamin C that are higher / lower than recommended daily dose. We’d be putting people at risk for no clear benefit. Also vitamin studies require strict dietary control which is going to increase the cost significantly. And even if there are huge benefits, there are no companies that stand to profit off of this. I’m sure there are more angles I’m not considering here which also increase difficulty. Which ultimately means we can’t know if there is benefit to having more vitamin C than the recommended daily dose. It’s possible the daily dose is too small (or too large).

In general we can consider the recommended daily amounts as safe and good for you. It’s possible more/less is better for you. Then we also need to consider that more/less could harm you. And we need to consider the daily dose is an average, which means itll be too much for about 50% of people and too little for 50% of people.

So in the end taking vitamins could actually work for you. Or it could be a placebo. There is no firm answer as there aren’t enough studies and everyone is different.

What do you mean with “work”? Do they supply the advertised vitamins? Most likely yes. Do they do something good for your body? Most likely, speaking for the general population, no.

Nutritional deficiencies are not as common as marketing agencies want you to believe. There are some special occasions though, for example if you’re a vegan you should supplement vitamin B12, either through dietary supplements or through vitamin b12 enriched food.

Most of the scientifically backed marketing claims for vitamins and minerals relate to “contributing to the normal function of xyz”. That means, for example, vitamin C is necessary for your immune system to work. However, that does _not_ mean that it makes your immune system stronger, makes you more healthy or less susceptible for becoming ill.

Here is a list of all the scientifically backed health claims for dietary supplements:


So vitamin pills are just useful if you are in need of that certain vitamin.

However, as someone who worked in the field of dietary supplements I have to issue a warning here: dietary supplements are _not_ medical drugs. They do _not_ need regulatory approval, like meds do. They are _not_ regularly tested (sometimes they are tested but that’s pretty rare for smaller companies). There is no official control over dosage and quality. Literally anyone can sell dietary supplements, there is no required quality test or something. People often don’t know that and think that the quality control is the same as for medical drugs. It’s not.