On any routine trip to the drugstore, you’ll probably find yourself glancing at the many varieties of vitamins and supplements lining the store’s shelves, curious about whether or not the claims made on the packaging are legit.
Of course, you’ll also spot plenty of gummy vitamins, which not only claim to supplement the nutrients you might be missing but also taste like a tiny sweet treat. It’s natural to wonder if gummy vitamins work as well as the real deal and whether or not you should include them in your daily routine — especially if you find it much more appealing to snack on a gummy or two than swallow yet another horse pill that tastes and smells less than pleasant.
If you are wooed by the allure of popping a vitamin or two in the hopes of scoring better health and/or wellness, you’re far from alone: New research out of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine found that people in the U.S. spent nearly $50 billion on vitamins and dietary supplements in 2021 alone, and more than half of adults take at least one dietary supplement.
Before you grab any vitamin — especially those adorable gummy vitamins — you’ll probably want to check in with your doctor about whether or not you even need a dietary supplement, says Ryan Andrews, RD, principal nutritionist and adviser for Precision Nutrition.
Do vitamins work anyway?
Manufacturers of vitamins and supplements can make lots of dubious claims, from immune support and warding off illness to keeping your hair and nails in tip-top shape. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s regulation over dietary supplements is limited, which means they don’t have the authority to approve these products or their labeling for safety and effectiveness before they’re sold to the public.
It’s also worth noting that, in general, vitamins and supplements aren’t particularly necessary for healthy adults. In fact, Northwestern Medicine scientists call vitamins a “waste of money” for non-pregnant, otherwise healthy Americans, noting that they seemingly add little to no benefit that a balanced diet wouldn’t already provide. “There is no strong evidence indicating that a multivitamin/mineral supplement will offer health benefits to someone meeting their nutrient needs through food alone,” agrees Andrews.
And while it might seem harmless to pop a vitamin each day (especially a gummy one), you might end up inadvertently doing more harm than good, as the FDA notes. Not only do many supplements contain potentially strong ingredients that could cause a bad reaction or unpleasant side effects, some supplements can interact with medications, interfere with lab tests, or have dangerous effects during surgery.
Do gummy vitamins work as well as regular vitamins?
Unfortunately, those ever-popular gummy vitamins are “particularly prone to problems,” says Andrews. “While it's possible for any vitamin/mineral supplement to be contaminated and/or have label inaccuracies, gummy vitamins seem to be particularly prone to problems. This is likely because gummy manufacturing presents a unique challenge around quality control. Vitamins/minerals may be sprayed onto the gummy, which can lead to measurement inconsistencies. Plus, some gummy ingredients may degrade over time, which can encourage some companies to overcompensate by putting amounts in excess of what the label indicates. Finally, since certain vitamins/minerals can alter taste — most notably iron — they are rarely included in gummy products, which could be a concern for someone wanting to supplement with iron.”
Andrews also says that people concerned about their dental health “might not want a sugary gummy vitamin to be a part of their daily routine,” though he notes that the amount of sugar found in a standard serving of gummy vitamins “is small enough that it shouldn't make a difference for otherwise healthy adults.”
Are gummy vitamins beneficial for anyone?
Though they don’t necessarily have the health halo, many might assume they do, it is worth checking in with your doctor to see if they recommend a vitamin regimen for you, gummy or otherwise, especially if you’re on a specialized diet, are pregnant or are trying to conceive, or have other health conditions that might cause nutritional gaps which supplements can help support. The same goes for your children — check in with their pediatrician before starting them on any dietary supplements, including gummy vitamins, even though kids were (unsurprisingly) the initial target audience for them.
Your doctor can recommend supplements tailored to your specific needs, with Andrews recommending a few general guidelines worth adhering to. “Since all supplements are prone to contamination and labeling inaccuracies it's important to use a brand that has either a GMP, USP, or NSF stamp of approval — this stacks the odds in favor of better quality control measures,” he says. “You also want to make sure the brand has records of third-party testing for contaminants. Informed Choice, Consumer Lab, and LabDoor offer third party testing of products.”
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