Are Vitamins a Scam?


Did you catch last week’s Four Corners episode, “Swallowing It”, examining the vitamin industry? For those that missed it, there were a number of issues raised but the most pressing concern identified was the gap that can exist between the marketing hype and the research data supporting the claims made by vitamin manufacturers.

With around 70% of us regularly taking some form of supplement, the vitamin industry is substantial. All supplements in Australia are subject to scrutiny with regards to their safety by Canberra’s very own Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). However, the claims made about a supplement’s effectiveness are not investigated unless a complaint is made to (TGA) which means essentially manufacturers are trusted to do the right thing. You would hope all vitamin companies behaved ethically and responsibly at all times but unfortunately, there are many examples of overblown claims and instances of downright deception.

So where does this leave those of us who want to be proactive about our wellbeing yet are understandably cautious about wasting money on supplements that might not be doing us any good? If you ask me, the answer is to seek professionally qualified and personally tailored advice.

As we know, unlike prescription medication, most supplements are readily available and can be purchased without professional recommendation. Research into our supplement buying habits has shown that we are largely a nation of self-prescribers. The biggest influence on what supplements we buy is what our friends and family recommend to us and no more reassuringly, the second biggest influence is “Dr Google”.

The way to maximise the benefit from any supplement you take is to talk to an expert, such as a naturopath or GP that specialises in nutritional medicine. They are most likely to be across the latest evidence-based research and more importantly, they will have knowledge of your individual circumstances and requirements. The expertise needed to accurately prescribe supplements is underestimated. For example, it is not enough to just select the correct supplement. Getting the right dosage is just as, if not even more, important.

So whilst many fair-minded Four Corner’s viewers would have come away with the impression that vitamins are a waste of money at best and a fraudulent scam at worst, I think that impression is misleading. Supplements have an important part to play in supporting our wellbeing, however, care and expertise need to be utilised in the choosing of what supplements, if any, are going to best serve your needs.