About 40% of American adults are taking supplements, and spend over $25 billion doing so. And most people are taking supplements they definitely don't need (such as protein powder), and any reasonable nutrition expert would advise against supplementing any nutrients in which you are not deficient.
A lot of clients tell me that they take vitamins "just in case," and as a sort of "nutritional insurance." But getting your nutrients in a concentrated and isolated form - like a pill or spray - is taking a huge risk with your health. The biggest examples of vitamins-gone-wrong are vitamin a, vitamin e, and beta carotene; several randomized studies of over 100,000 participants demonstrated that taking these nutrients in the form of a concentrated pill actually INCREASED the risk of cancer and other imbalances in the body. However, consuming more beta carotene via whole plants has been demonstrated in multiple studies to drastically reduce cancer risk.
How can that be? A plant is a package of countless phytochemicals and nutrients, all balanced and combined together perfectly to form that plant. We are still discovering more and more compounds existing in plants that we eat that support optimal health. When we strip away the package and condense a large amount of a single nutrient into a pill or spray or powder, we overload our cells with too much of one nutrient for them to handle. This causes a nutritional imbalance in the body that is challenging to rectify.
In short: A PILL IS NOT A WHOLE FOOD.
Did you know that there is no regulation of supplements in the US? Even if we could trust the FDA, they have nothing to do with the supplement industry. The only laws "protecting" consumers are those regarding false advertising. Check out this gem of an article from earlier this year, where some of New York's biggest retailers were found to be selling mis-labeled and potentially harmful pills labeled as healthy supplements.
Most people in the United States and other affluent nations are suffering from EXCESS of nutrients, not deficiency. Most people are consuming more calories, more protein, more cholesterol, more more more....than is healthful for them. When was the last time you knew someone suffering from protein deficiency (that was not linked to calorie deficiency)? How about someone diagnosed with pellagra from lack of niacin? But I'll bet you know people suffering from obesity, diabetes, cancer, or our #1 killer - heart disease.
There are no conclusive reports that supplements promote good health. I have seen many "studies" funded by supplement companies, but those are certainly not objective. I've seen interesting treatments of some illnesses using massive doses of vitamin c; this, I'm inclined to support. However, the majority of people are not using vitamins this way.
Multivitamins MUST GO IN THE TRASH FIRST. This is an overload of nutrients that were never intended to be packaged together. Many people report digestive issues and other side effects from taking their daily multi. I promise you, I've never come across a client who needed a daily supplement of anything, especially long-term.
An overload of any nutrient in the body can cause a wide spectrum of imbalances. It will also tax your liver and kidneys significantly, and these are your "detox" organs - you don't want to exhaust them!
The only two nutrients that I hesitate with are vitamin b12 and vitamin d. The reason is because of the extreme sanitation of our food supply (in the case of b12), and our general lack of time spent in the sun (d). However, many of our foods are already fortified with b12, so most of us are "supplementing" whether intentional or not. The same goes with vitamin d.
With vitamin d, we can eliminate dairy consumption (it messes with our body's ability to produce vitamin d), and we can make an effort to expose one area of our body a day to the sun for 15-20 mins. If you live in an area with cold winters and less sun, then you might consider a plant-based vitamin d3 supplement once a week or so along with dairy elimination to keep your levels intact year-round. But that's the MOST I would recommend. Personally, I do one dose every other week in the winter, none in the spring/summer/fall, and I've never been deficient.
For b12, we can get organic (ideally local) root vegetables and just gently wash them with soap and water rather than scrubbing. But we consistently consume foods with b12 fortified, so that's about as far as I would take that effort. If you become deficient, then you can boost with a plant-based b12 sublingual or liquid supplement about once a week. Depending on how deficient you are, you may need to do daily doses for the first 7 days, then drop to every other day for 2 weeks, then once a week from there.
As a good habit, start getting your blood levels checked once a year to make sure you don't have any deficiencies. Never guess that you're deficient in something just because you read a magazine or saw something on the news. Avoid the likelihood of developing deficiencies by consuming primarily whole plant foods, mostly in raw form (some cooked is ok). As always, the solution is to eat the rainbow.
Use the money you'll save to buy more fresh, organic fruits and veggies to TRULY invest in your health!