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The truth about vitamins: Do we really need to take them?

A registered dietitian said vitamins become hope in a bottle because we all want a magic pill to fix whatever it is we'd like to change.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The vitamin industry is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry with products promising to help just about every “ailment” imaginable. 

Want longer hair? Crave clearer skin? How about a healthier heart? Or better brain function? Whatever it is you’re after, you can bet there’s a vitamin for it, but do they actually work?

“The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of those things we get in our food. So do supplemental vitamins really do anything? Well, I think for the majority of us, what they're doing is, you know, lining the pockets of the people that sell them," Dr. Jeffrey Galvin said.

Dr. Galvin is a biohacking specialist board-certified in Emergency Medicine and Obesity Medicine, the focus of his North Charlotte practice, Vitality Medical Wellness Institute, is maximizing patient health using a combination of precession medicine and lifestyle optimization.

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He said consumers need to know the vitamin industry is largely unregulated.

“They're completely not regulated. So I can make whatever claims I want as long as it's just a vitamin,' Dr. Galvin said. "There's very little regulation. I'm not going to recommend something that I can't legitimately look and say, Yeah, I'm using this, because of this reason, here's the science, this is my reasoning behind this. So that's one of the problems with that industry. It's completely unregulated."

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Dr. Galvin said to look at the label. On every single vitamin bottle sold in the United States, you'll see the same two sentences:

“This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”

"They could probably add to the end of that, that means we can say and claim whatever we want and you'll have no idea that we're doing it. So basically, what they're saying is, anything written on the bottle could be a lie," Dr Galvin said. "Nobody's looked at the vitamin to check that it does what the marketing claims. Nobody's evaluated what was claimed. The FDA hasn't evaluated it.”

Yet still, we buy them.

Registered dietitian Kirsten Screen of Screen Nutrition said vitamins become hope in a bottle because we all want a magic pill to fix whatever it is we'd like to change when, in reality, there’s a much better way.

"So in my world, ideally, what you need you to get from food, typically, and I say this to my clients all the time, supplements are exactly that; they're a supplement and in my world, a gap stop," Screen said. "We should use them to fix a temporary deficit that we should then correct through a holistic approach of (asking) what is the body missing?"

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Dr. Galvin said the average adult should be able to get the nutrients they need from the food they eat.

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"For most people, a reasonably healthy diet will provide all of the nutrients that you need. Now, there may be specific things that people are deficient in, related to a medical problem, or maybe a treatment that they're receiving and we use a lot of supplements in our clinic for specific things," Galvin said.

There is one vitamin doctors agree is absolutely necessary. Doctors say folic acid is essential for women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. In fact, the CDC encourages all women of reproductive age to take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to help prevent some major brain and spine birth defects.

 Contact Carolyn Bruck at cbruck@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. 

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