Why vitamins are essential to our daily lives
Major studies have concluded that popular supplements do little to benefit health, but some people insist taking them regularly makes them feel better. Leona O’Neill reports.
For many of us, popping vitamin pills has become a part of our daily routine, despite many well publicised reports to say that taking them has zero benefits to our health.
Last week two major studies reported that - despite what was previously commonly thought - popular vitamin supplements did very little to protect heart health.
Some 100,000 people were trialled by Cochrane Researchers with regards Omega-3 Fish Oil and little proof was found that it prevented heart disease.
Researchers at the University of Alabama in the US analysed the results of studies and clinical trials undertaken since 1970, involving more than two million people to find "no association" between taking multi-vitamin and mineral supplements and the prevention of coronary disease.
Other studies by St Michael's Hospital and the University of Toronto have concluded that taking vitamins is essentially "useless".
But three Northern Irish people chose to ignore the research - and told how they will continue to take their vitamins daily, because it makes them feel better.
'I won't spend a fortune, but will still get them because I get a benefit from them'
Medically-retired pharmacy dispenser Tina McGonagle (36) lives in south Belfast with her daughter Emma (14). She takes at least 10 vitamins per day and says she'd "be lost without them".
"I would take 10 vitamins every day," she says. "I take a B6, B9, B12 combination, I also take B12 separately also. I take a multi-vitamin, calcium, Vitamin D, evening primrose oil, iron, aloe vera, cod liver oil and bioten, to help with hair, skin and nails.
"I take all these vitamins because I have quite a few issues - I have multiple sclerosis, an under-active thyroid and extreme fatigue.
"Basically the drugs that I take to help these issues, there is a counter action. Some of them make your skin awful, or your hair, or they do something.
"The calcium and vitamins I take to protect my bones, because that can be a problem with multiple sclerosis and evening primrose oil I take for general wellbeing.
"I feel a difference taking them. I take Vitamin D and aloe vera for fatigue and for digestive health, as I also have irritable bowel syndrome and if I run out of them I definitely feel it, they definitely do help me."
Tina says that she tries to target special price offers in shops to buy her vitamins, but she knows other people "spend a fortune".
"If they get benefit from it then great, even if it is only in their mind, that's still brilliant.
"But for me, with things like calcium, I take it because when I get older I don't want to be worried about my bones and having osteoporosis. But a lot of vitamins might be psychological - 'someone told me to take this so I'll try it'.
"When I hear reports that say vitamins don't work and they don't affect your health, I will still take them.
"I won't spend a fortune on them, but I'll still get them because I do feel the benefit from them.
"Obviously they work for me, but they might not work for everyone else."
'Considering where I was and where I am now, the difference is unbelievable'
Claire Thompson (47) is a integrative therapist who lives in north Belfast with her three children - Conor (26), Anna (18) and Josh (16). She says she needs Vitamin B12 in particular to "stay alive".
"I have pernicious anemia, which means that my stomach doesn't absorb nutrients as it normally would via food," she says. "My stomach lining is damaged so I need to take additional supplements for a lot of stuff. The main one is Vitamin B12.
"At the moment I would be injecting this three times a week. I also have folic anemia so I take that daily also, as well as Vitamin D and K - because the Vitamin D tells the Vitamin K where to go. I also take magnesium and potassium.
"I take all these vitamins because my stomach doesn't absorb things normally and these all work in conjunction together. I know they work. I used to take a lot of leg cramps that would keep me up at night. I read somewhere that magnesium and potassium work together to try and reduce that.
"Since starting on them I don't get leg cramps at all. I feel the difference and when I stop taking them I notice they come back.
"If I'm in the gym my muscles start to cramp up and it reminds me to go and take them again. They definitely work for me."
Claire says that Vitamin B12 has properties that help to ease many of her symptoms.
"B12 forms the spongy tissue around your nerves and your veins. So basically it would wear away and everything would be rubbing and you'd be in quite a lot of pain," she explains.
"It also controls the oxygen going around your body. So my main symptoms would be breathlessness and fatigue.
"It can starve the oxygen going to your brain and cause quite a lot of neurological symptoms.
"Before I was diagnosed, my speech would have been slurred, I would have sounded drunk and I was forgetful.
"I actually thought I had dementia and I suffered bouts of extreme fatigue and depression.
"It got to a stage where if I was going up a flight of stairs I would be on my hands and knees because I was so breathless."
Claire says she will continue to take the vitamins because without them she feels worse.
"I know there are reports out there that vitamins have zero benefits to health, but I think that it's a very widespread comment, to put all vitamins together like that," she says.
"Because without B12 and Folic Acid I wouldn't be here and I wouldn't be able to function.
"Considering where I was and where I am now, the difference is unbelievable. I definitely know for me, vitamins work.
"Even though these reports say that they don't work, I know that they do and I'll keep taking them, because they make me feel better."
'I do think that some work and others are a bit hocus pocus'
Marketing manager Nathan Flatman (42), from Sion Mills, now lives in Norfolk with his wife Claire and their sons Matthew (14) and Daniel (11).
He says some vitamins have worked for him and others have been "hocus pocus".
"I had a kidney transplant 14 years ago at the Belfast City Hospital and I take Vitamin B and Vitamin D every day to help with my transplant," he adds.
"I am deficient in Vitamin D because of the transplant, so I take that. And the Vitamin B is for an issue resulting from kidney failure. I take them because I know they work.
"I have run out of them before and I have started to feel fairly rough after a few days. Not taking them affects my general well being and also my blood counts and then it could affect my kidneys. So it is vital that I take those particular tablets."
Nathan also experimented with cherry vitamins to treat his gout, but was not so impressed with the results.
"I had gout and it is extremely, extremely painful, if feels like someone is breaking your ankles with a baseball bat. It gets so bad that literally if a butterfly was to fly past your ankles it would be agony," he says.
"But with the cherry vitamins, I bought them for £20 a go and they didn't work. So I'm a 50/50 kind of person on vitamins. I do think some work and others are a bit hocus pocus."
Nathan believes that vitamins, as prescribed by doctors, are an essential part of his medication.
"If they were of zero benefit then I find it hard to believe why doctors would prescribe them. I think some of the over-the-counter vitamins that people buy might have limited effect," he says.
"I will continue to take my vitamins because I know that they work for me, and when I don't take them I feel worse.
"They have been prescribed to me by a leading consultant in Belfast and continued to be prescribed by another leading consultant in Norwich. If they were of no use to me I don't believe such educated people would be prescribing them to me."