You might often hear the common trope ‘vitamins are just expensive urine’. We’re here to share the good news and debunk the myth, because in fact, good quality vitamins and supplements are not just expensive urine. There is extensive evidence to show that vitamins provide additional support in many areas of health. Read on to learn more about why your vitamins are not a waste of your hard earned money.
Vitamins are organic compounds that the body uses to carry out everyday functions (1). In order to thrive, run, jump, exercise, be creative, sleep, work and laugh we need adequate vitamin intake. The tricky bit? Vitamins and nutrients can only be obtained from food, supplementation or sunlight as the human body is unable to produce them on its own.
Vitamins are classified as either water or fat-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C and B complex, cannot be stored by the body since they dissolve in water. On the other hand, fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamins A, D, E, and K, that dissolve in fat tend to accumulate in the body. These vitamins can be stored in the liver and body fat for a long time unlike their water-soluble counterparts (2).
Since any excess is passed through urine, water-soluble vitamins require regular replenishment. While it's possible for your diet to provide all the nutrients your body needs, there could be many instances where your food choices do not always align with your vitamin requirements.
Most often, yes! It’s quite uncommon for Australians to consistently eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, while incorporating all the necessary micronutrients. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, only one in 13 adults eat enough fruits and vegetables, while 94% of children do not have enough vegetables in their diet (3).
Since it may not be possible to get all the key vitamins and minerals from food alone, taking vitamin supplements to address any deficiencies may be worth considering. This applies even more so for water-soluble vitamins that do not get stored in the body.
Vitamin C or ascorbic acid, for instance, is one of the body’s most important water-soluble antioxidant substances. Given its role in strengthening the body’s immune defenses and neutralising free radicals, it’s crucial that we prioritise replenishing it frequently.
While vitamins can help with dietary deficiencies, that doesn’t mean that they are a replacement for a balanced diet. Vitamins tend to work best when they are paired with a healthy and varied diet that features items from the five food groups: vegetables and legumes; fruits; grains and cereals; lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, tofu, nuts, and seeds; and milk, cheese, and yoghurt (4).
People commonly use the argument that “vitamins are just expensive urine” when they notice a fluorescent yellow colour after taking their B vitamins. This is not a cause for concern, or an indication of vitamins not being absorbed.
One of the eight key B vitamins is riboflavin, which is a nutrient that helps the body metabolise fats, proteins and carbohydrates into glucose for energy. However, it also has a yellow-green fluorescent pigment, which is what causes the bright yellow urine. Fortunately, this isn't a sign of wasted vitamins, it just means your body is absorbing riboflavin as it should!
To truly understand how vitamins are not flushed directly through the body, it’s important to identify the purpose of urine. Urine accumulates in the kidneys once the body has finished purifying the blood. Nutrients must still run through the human body and essential nutrients will be assimilated prior to excretion.
Another counterargument to the “vitamins are just expensive urine” view is that some individuals struggle with vitamin deficiencies due to gaps in their diet or poor lifestyle choices.
According to the Australian Health Survey, 73% of females and 51% of males aged two years and above did not meet calcium requirements from the food they eat (5). Calcium is an essential mineral making up our bones and teeth. Without enough calcium, the bones can weaken and become susceptible to fractures.
And even if you meticulously follow a balanced diet, vitamin deficiencies may still occur at certain stages of life. Pregnant women, for one, are at risk of vitamin deficiencies since they have to support the growing nutrient requirements of their baby (6).
Without these critical micronutrients, the capacity of the mother to sustain the pregnancy may be put at risk. The same can be said for the fetus who requires micronutrients for sound and healthy organ development (6)
For instance, deficiencies in folate, might affect normal fertilisation and embryo development (6). Similarly, a deficiency in vitamin E, zinc, copper, and iodine may be linked with early reproductive failure and miscarriage (6).
In these situations, vitamins are not just expensive urine. According to the Nutrient Reference Values (NRV) for Australia and New Zealand, the aforementioned vitamins are recommended as additional supplements (7).
Pregnant women in particular may benefit from folate supplements to reduce the risk of their baby developing neural tube defects (8). Also known as folic acid, folate is a vitamin under the B family that plays an important role in the fetus development, specifically the neural tube that would later become the brain, spinal cord, and supporting bones.
Taking folate before conception and during the first weeks of pregnancy has been shown to prevent seven out of ten cases of neural tube defects9. If you’re planning a pregnancy, Better Health Channel by the State Government of Victoria recommends consuming more folate early on since the neural tube forms and closes in the first four to six weeks of pregnancy (9). More often than not, by the time women suspect they’re pregnant, the window to consume more folate for healthy fetal development may have already passed (9).
In addition to pregnant and breastfeeding women, other individuals who may be at risk of vitamin or mineral deficiency (2) include:
Given the possibility that you may not always get the vitamins and minerals you need from your diet, it’s now easier to see why the argument “a multivitamin is just expensive urine” is not always accurate!
It’s always important to consider the person’s unique situation and health factors to see if they would benefit from supplementation. Always speak to your doctor if you’re considering supplementation.
Vitamins and supplements can provide targeted health support and optimise the effects of positive lifestyle choices. If you want to move even further on the path to good health, you may want to consider supplementation. Vitable offers custom vitamin packs in Australia. These personalised vitamins can be tailored to your unique health goals and needs. For your vitamin subscription, you can mix and match multivitamin packs depending on what you need. We even have vitamin delivery covered!
Check out our vitamin selection right here.