Everyone needs vitamins to function, but we should all take note of where our vitamins come from.
That’s the opinion of scientist Dr Derek Muller, who fronts the new documentary, Vitamania airing on SBS on Sunday 12 August at 8.30pm.
Vitamania is a 90-minute film that aims to empower consumers to make informed decisions about vitamins and vitamin supplements, by detailing how vitamins can both heal and harm.
Dr Muller says although vitamin pills are helpful when used for the right purpose, most healthy people can get all the vitamins they need from food – without resorting to supplementation.
"I went into this documentary thinking we were making a film about vitamin pills and fortified foods. I came out of it thinking about the marvel that is kale.”
“I learned so much in the documentary about how powerful [vitamin pills] can be,” Dr Muller tells SBS. “At the end of the day, I come out of this film – not taking any pills – but thinking more carefully about my diet. I went into this documentary thinking we were making a film about vitamin pills and fortified foods. I came out of it thinking about the marvel that is kale.”
Dr Muller says that during the making of the film, he was also surprised to discover that vitamins are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) in Australia, according to ‘a trust-based system’.
“[This is where] manufacturers certify that they are using safe products…and they have evidence to back up any health claims they make,” he says.
“Now the regulator does do some random spot checks after these products go on sale and people can complain about products. When you look at what the regulator has checked, they find that in 80 per cent of cases there is some sort of defect – not a defect that will cause someone serious injuries but in 44 per cent of cases there is a problem with labelling or in 25 per cent of cases, the [manufacturer may not] have evidence to back up their health claims. In nine per cent cases, they’ve found some quality problem with the product.
“So that’s a pretty significant proportion of the products that are actually investigated to have some sort of issue…”
However, he believes that underlying the system is an understanding that vitamin pills won’t cause a lot of harm as long as the manufacturer is using proper ingredients: “I think that’s why they are lightly regulated.”
According to Vitamania, the world will spend over $100 billion on vitamins and supplements this year. Almost one billion of us take one regularly – or give one to our children. New benefits are regularly being claimed.
“I really think the recommendation the film makes is to think about what you are putting into your body and to only take [vitamin] pills if you need to."
Some vitamins are believed to be lifesaving in certain health situations but others, used in the wrong circumstances, may be dangerous.
After investigating vitamin science and history, and listening to a range of personal stories about vitamin overdose and deficiencies for the purpose of the documentary, Dr Muller shares his own conclusion on the topic with SBS.
“I really think the recommendation the film makes is to think about what you are putting into your body and to only take [vitamin] pills if you need to,” Dr Muller says.
“Treat the pills you put into your body like medicine. You don’t take half an Aspirin everyday, usually, unless it’s recommended by a doctor to do so. In the same way, if you have a deficiency in a particular vitamin [that is proven by a doctor through tests], then it’s absolutely worth supplementing your diet with a vitamin pill to remedy that deficiency.
“But if you don’t have a known deficiency, think carefully about the things you are treating your body with.”
Vitamania premieres Sunday 12 August, 8.30pm on SBS. The documentary will be available after broadcast via SBS On Demand. Join the conversation @Vitamaniamovie #Vitamaniamovie.