Toxic Chemicals Disguised as "Nutrients": The Dirty Secrets of the Multivitamin Industry

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Many people take a daily multivitamin believing it will improve their health, but few realize some common brands contain potentially toxic ingredients that are actually industrial waste products in disguise. Are these supplements filling a nutritional gap or increasing your toxic burden?

Multivitamin supplements are a multi-billion dollar industry, marketed as a convenient way to cover nutritional gaps in the diet and optimize health. An estimated one-third of Americans take a multivitamin regularly.1 While the concept makes intuitive sense, and there are some excellent food-baed or amino acid chelated products on the market, the reality is that many mass-market formulas contain synthetic and potentially harmful ingredients that have not been proven safe or effective. Some are even industrial waste products repackaged as "nutrients."

The lack of regulation and quality control standards in the supplement industry allows products to be sold with misleading health claims and questionable ingredients. This review examines some of the most concerning components found in top-selling multivitamin brands like Centrum, One-A-Day, and Flintstones.

The Illusion of "Multivitamin Deficiency"

A recent advertisement by supplement giant Centrum claimed that "eight in ten Indians may be multivitamin deficient" to promote their products. However, this notion was publicly rebuked by renowned diabetes specialist Dr. V Mohan. As he clarified, "There is nothing called multivitamin deficiency. Unless there is deficiency of specific vitamins, eg. Vit D or B12 , giving multivitamins may not be beneficial and may even do harm."2 This is all the more apparent when it comes to the qualitative differences between cyanide containing forms and those that don't contain this toxic compound. Learn more by reading our article: Is Your Vitamin B12 Poisoning You

Dr. Mohan explained that multivitamins usually do not provide enough of the specific nutrients someone is deficient in, so targeted supplementation is more appropriate than a shotgun approach. He cautioned that "giving all other vitamins and minerals regularly when there is no deficiency can actually cause harm."2 Unfortunately, the illusion of "multivitamin deficiency" seems to be a marketing ploy rather than a real medical condition.

Toxic Ingredients Hidden in Plain Sight

Some of the most concerning ingredients in common multivitamin supplements are heavy metals and industrial chemicals that are listed right on the label, but with unfamiliar names:

1. Sodium Selenate/Selenite

Sodium selenate, proudly promoted as a "nutrient" in many multivitamins, is actually an industrial byproduct of copper metal refining.3 It is four times more toxic than cyanide, with a lethal dose of just 100 mg in humans based on animal studies. Centrum contains 55 mcg per dose, which is above the EPA safe limit for drinking water. In contrast, organically-bound selenium from food sources like nuts and seeds is an essential nutrient that boosts immunity and thyroid function.3

2. Cupric Oxide

Another mislabeled "nutrient" is cupric oxide, a form of copper that has been deemed unfit for animal consumption due to its poor bioavailability. Studies show cupric oxide cannot effectively be absorbed in the gut, potentially worsening widespread copper deficiency.3 On top of being nutritionally ineffective, it is also classified as a hazardous substance by the European Union.3 Organically-bound copper from food is vital for connective tissues, bones, brain and heart health.

3. Ferrous Fumarate

The form of iron in most multivitamins, ferrous fumarate, warrants the warning to "keep out of reach of children" due to its high toxicity. Accidental ferrous fumarate overdose is a leading cause of child fatalities.3 One Centrum contains over 6 times the EPA limit for safe drinking water. Ferrous fumarate is an industrial mineral and mining byproduct not found in food. Research links it to increased risk of inflammatory diseases and cancer, especially in high doses.3

Additional Suspect Ingredients

Other inorganic elements and compounds in the "Dishonorable Mention" category include:

  • Stannous chloride (tin): An industrial form of tin shown to damage DNA and cause growth retardation and cancer in high doses. The amount in Centrum is over twice the EPA's drinking water limit.3
  • Manganese sulfate: An agricultural pesticide that, at low chronic doses, is linked to neurological damage, coordination loss, tremors and memory deficits. One Centrum dose contains over 4 times the EPA safe limit.3

Lack of Oversight Enables Deception

With such clear evidence of toxicity, it seems unfathomable that these ingredients could be allowed into widely sold supplements. But as the GreenMedInfo article notes, "no one is minding the store" when it comes to regulating vitamins:

"Loopholes abound, allowable limits are questionable, and even our organic food supply is not safe from subterfuge. Even organic infant formula can skirt regulatory oversight thanks to the numbers game."3

For example, a product can be labeled "organic" if it has 95% organic ingredients, allowing the other 5% to include these hazardous additives. There are currently no laws prohibiting the use of these industrial chemicals in dietary supplements, despite ample evidence of harm.

The Precautionary Principle Ignored

The article argues that a "precautionary principle" approach should be used for approving supplement ingredients, meaning a substance is held to high scrutiny and assumed harmful until proven safe before approval. Instead, the current system is the reverse:

"Only when a substance has repeatedly demonstrated harm in already exposed populations, is it subject to the level of scrutiny that can precipitate its removal from FDA-approved products on store shelves. This means lobbying and corporate interests often prevail through the off-loading of harmful substances that are considered 'innocent until proven guilty.'"3

As a result, countless consumers are unknowingly ingesting toxic chemicals that have no business being labeled as "nutrients", while believing they are improving their health. The article advises opting for whole-food sourced organic supplements from trusted manufacturers and focusing on a nutrient-dense diet rather than trying to compensate with a questionable multivitamin.

Learn more about the potential toxicity of mass market multivitamins like Centrum, by reading our article on the topic here.


References

1. Kantor, Elizabeth D., Colin D. Rehm, Mengmeng Du, Emily White, and Edward L. Giovannucci. "Trends in Dietary Supplement Use among US Adults from 1999-2012." JAMA 316, no. 14 (October 11, 2016): 1464-74. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2016.14403.

2. Sengupta, Ankita. "Padma Shri Dr V Mohan Slams Centrum Ad: 'There Is Nothing Called Multivitamin Deficiency.'" Moneycontrol, April 22, 2024. https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/trends/padma-shri-dr-v-mohan-slams-centrum-ad-there-is-nothing-called-multivitamin-deficiency-10614001.html.

3. Ji, Sayer. "Is Your MultiVitamin Trying to Kill You?" GreenMedInfo, September 11, 2017. http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/your-multivitamin-trying-kill-you.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.

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