A recent study suggested taking multivitamins can lead to riskier behavior and, as a result, poorer health. The vitamins themselves are seemingly not the problem, but rather the effect the supplements have on one's state of mind.
A group of Taiwanese researchers took a closer look into the association between behavior and taking vitamin supplements after they'd noticed an "interesting asymmetrical relationship" between the use of vitamins and public health, a press release said.
Wen-Bin Chiou, of National Sun Yat-Sen University, decided to conduct a test to determine if regular use of dietary supplements had an effect on behavior. The idea for the research project came after Chiou noted a colleague chose to eat an unhealthy meal over than an organic meal; the reason being the individual took a multivitamin earlier that day.
The press release also said, "After reviewing the literature of the prevalence of dietary supplement use, it seemed to show that use of dietary supplements is increasing, but it does not appear to be correlated with improved public health," says Chiou who conducted the study along with Chao-Chin Yang, of National Kaohsiung University of Hospitality and Tourism, and Chin-Sheng Wan, of Southern Taiwan University.
What the research team did was establish two groups of people to survey. One group ("A") was told they should take their multivitamin and the individuals in the control group were given placebo pills.
The researchers then added a twist to this study by giving everyone, in both groups, placebos.
The team concluded those individuals, who believed they were taking dietary supplements, engaged in health-risk behaviors more frequently. For instance, they chose to eat buffets and fast foods over organic meals, demonstrated less of a desire to exercise and also showed a heightened desire to "engage in hedonic activities."
MSNBC reported Dr. Andrew Leuchter, a professor of psychiatry and director of the Laboratory of Brain, Behavior and Pharmacology at the University of California, Los Angeles, is not surprised.
"People have just come to expect that pills can cure everything," Leuchter said. “We live in a society that is very oriented towards taking medication,” adding, “People feel like they can take a pill and it will almost immunize them from any unhealthy lifestyle choices."
The study, published in November's issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, said, "we argue that because dietary supplements are perceived as conferring health advantages, use of such supplements may create an illusory sense of invulnerability that disinhibits unhealthy behaviors."
As a part of the conclusion, the researchers said that those individuals who rely on multivitamins can "pay a hidden price" due to exhibiting a feeling of immunity when it comes to risky behaviors that can impact one's health.
According to Consumer Reports, about half of all Americans take a daily dietary supplement. Statistics say consumers in the U.S. spent $26.7 billion on dietary supplements in 2009.