Could Your Multivitamin Be Causing Your Acne?
I recently came across a YouTube video from the Dr. Oz TV show.
I'm not a fan of the Oz man, personally, although he does get it right sometimes (even a broken clock is right twice a day) - but I was of course drawn to the video because it mentioned acne in the title.
Surprisingly, he gave some good advice (albeit he simplified adult acne waaay too much for my liking), and brought up one valid point that I think is worth elaborating on.
Oz talked about how people who experience a breakout that looks similar to this -
- might actually be experiencing a breakout due to their multivitamin, particularly a multivitamin with iodine in it.
Considering the fact that half of Americans take vitamin supplements (in the United States alone annual sales of multivitamins went from $11 billion in 2012 to $14.3 billion in 2014) and about 17 million people in the United States suffer from acne - I thought that this was a pretty pertinent issue.
Excess iodide (the ion state of iodine) in the diet (which a multivitamin may cause, considering most people already get a lot of iodine in their diet) can produce skin lesions, sometimes referred to as ioderma, which are thought be a form of cell-mediated hypersensitivity. Characteristic symptoms include acneiform pustules, which can coalesce to form nodular lesions on the face, extremities, trunk, and mucous membranes. The lesions will regress and heal when the excess iodide intake is discontinued. This means that things like high intakes of iodized salt, kelp or other high-iodine food, medication or supplement can all result in acne breakouts.
This doesn't mean, however, that if your ane breakout doesn't look like this that it's not related to iodine - I'm sure it can manifest in a variety of ways. It also doesn't mean that if your acne does look like this it is absolutely caused by iodine. This simply means that it might be useful to look at how a multivitamin may be the cause of your skin problems.
Something else to look at is B vitamins in your multivitamin, which are often in higher-than-needed amounts that can result in rosacea. No big deal, you're probably thinking - my multivitamin surely wouldn't contain excess iodine and excess B vitamins, would it? Think again - some multivitamins can contain over 4,000% more B vitamins than your RDA, some even more than 50,000%! Like what the heck - who decides to include 50,000% of the daily RDA of B vitamins? What purpose could that possibly serve and benefit?
Basic commercial multivitamin supplements often contain vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B9, B12, B5 most of which you probably already get an adequate supply of from your diet. Many formulas actually include higher than RDA amounts. But does that mean that only higher than RDA amount multivitamins are bad?
All of this may be reason enough for you to take a second look at your multivitamin. You're probably weighing the odds - is this multivitamin more important for my health than my acne is damaging? Is it really worth the risk to my health deteriorating if I stop taking my multivitamin?
Well, actually, yeah - it is.
Studies have shown that acne is both physically and emotionally damaging. That much cannot be disputed; it leaves you with both emotional and physical scarring. There are studies upon studies upon studies (I go over more in my eBook) about acne and its psychological co-morbidity. Conversely, studies have consistently shown that multivitamins are, by and large, completely useless, and can even be potentially harmful. In some cases, they might increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mortality (1)(2).
The Annals of Internal Medicine published three papers on multivitamins, with an editorial entitled Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements:
"Evidence is sufﬁcient to advise against routine supplementation, and we should translate null and negative ﬁndings into action. The message is simple: Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justiﬁed, and they should be avoided. This message is especially true for the general population with no clear evidence of micronutrient deﬁciencies, who represent most supplement users in the United States and in other countries." (emphasis mine)
Despite this evidence, one of the most common reasons for taking vitamins isn’t a clear need for those vitamins, but rather our own desire to improve our health, as if that will prevent disease. Our use is deemed “preventative” – the belief that we’re just filling in the gaps in our diet.
This is the kind of mindset like, "Isn't it better to take one, just in case? Despite the risks mentioned above, maybe it will help, right?"
Would you take an antibiotic every day, just in case you get a bacterial infection? Would you take an antiviral every day, just in case you catch a virus? Would you put Polysporin on a scrape that you haven't yet developed? No, so why have a just-in-case attitude when it comes to multivitamins?
With all of that being said, not all vitamin and mineral supplements are useless, and taking necessary supplements can be helpful in warding off illness and preventing deficiency (deficiencies which can lead to health issues and disease) - but oftentimes, a multivitamin is absolutely not necessary, because all of the "nutrients" are not needed or justified. I would always, first and foremost, opt for your nutrients from their whole food sources, and supplement nutrients only where necessary. This is why it's important to see your doctor regularly (once a year or so) to have nutrient testing done to determine if your levels are adequate.
For example, I don't take a multivitamin because I don't need one. I used to take a women's One-A-Day beause I thought it would make me super healthy. I quickly learned that wasn't the truth.
My diet is nutritionally adequate enough to get my nutrients from plain ol' food (the way it should be) and just a few supplements where my lifestyle/diet is lacking.
I take vitamin D3 because I am prone to a vitamin D deficiency. This is not indicative of an inadequate diet; instead, this is due to the fact that I live very far from the equator, and D deficiencies are very common here, with serious repercussions. Research has shown MS is more common in countries further away from the equator, for example. As these countries also have less sunshine, this may influence the levels of vitamin D in these populations. This has led researchers to investigate a possible link between levels of vitamin D and MS. Vitamin D deficiency also has other serious health consequences which far outweigh the risks of taking a good D3 supplement. When I found out I was deficient, I was put on D3 and my levels came back up - now I take a daily supplement to maintain my levels year-round to ensure optimal intake. As you can see, this is not a case where I am simply taking D3 for the heck of it, or "just in case". It serves a clear need.
I also take B12. Oh yeah, a typical vegan taking B12 because vegans are so deficient in B12. Blah, blah, blah, bacon! Well, the truth is that the reason I take a B12 supplement is not because I am deficient, or because I don't eat meat - it's because I don't get enough bacteria in my diet from feces and dirt, y'know? Do you? In fact, everyone should be taking a B12 supplement - not just vegans, as some 1/4-1/3 of the population is actually B12 deficient. I take my B12 periodically, about 2-3x a week, as only a small amount is needed because the body stores it. I take B12 as a safe-guard, to serve a clear need for its clear lack of presence in many people's diets, not just my own - and you should, too.
Lastly, I also take omega 3, because I don't really consume microalgae, and don't intend on getting my long chain fatty acids by eating a species that ate microalgae. Rather than kill an animal just to get secondary microalgae, I might as well just take a supplement that's made with microalgae. Just eliminate the middle-man. Some vegans will argue that we don't need to consume microalgae, that our body converts short chain fatty acids into long chain fatty acids. Simply speaking, there's no way of knowing how efficiently my body converts ALA in the things I eat (like flax) to EHA/DPA, if at all. Some people may convert it efficiently, others may not convert it at all. Some studies speculate that vegans might convert it more efficiently because it is the only source they have - which is very possible. There's no way to know, and that's not a risk I am willing to take. Until we have more research on the subject, it's safest to take a supplement because long chain fatty acids are important for healthy brain function. Again, this is taken not as a preventative "just in case", but to serve a clear need where my diet is lacking.
As you can see, my supplement intake is extremely minimal, and is only what is absolutely necessary based on my dietary intake, and my needs. Everything else I make up for in my diet, and my blood tests will happily prove that. No need for excess iodine or excess folate, iron, zinc, calcium, etc. All of those things can easily be gotten from a rich array of whole food, plant-based sources.
I don't need the added and unnecessary nutrients in a multivitamin, and really, neither do you. And if you feel like your diet is so nutritionally inadequate that you need every single nutrient in a multivitamin ... then you need to re-evaluate your diet, not take a multivitamin.
So, I challenge you, dear reader, to get rid of your expensive and useless multivitamin - improve your diet by eating more whole foods, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, lots of grains and nuts and seeds and legumes - and only supplement where absolutely needed. Evaluate where your diet is lacking (use something like Cron-o-meter in conjunction with a doctor-ordered blood test) and determine what cannot be made up with diet; only then should you supplement.
That way you won't have to worry about things like your multivitamin causing acne.