October 26, 2011

The Multivitamin Paradox: taking a supplement gives a license to indulge, relax and smoke

Recent research has suggested that taking multi-vitamins can shorten your life. And this suggestion is not based on a single study, but on a review of 68 studies with more than 232.000 participants.The authors of this review state that there could be several explanations for this increase in the risk of early death. One of them is that multivitamins may interfere with the natural defense system of the body.

This could indeed be the underlying physiological mechanism. However, a recent paper of Chiou and colleagues in Psychological science an interesting psychological mechanism of consumers taking multivitamins. In two studies, they show that taking a simple pill (which participants believed was a multivitamin) generated a psychological license to exercise less and indulge in unhealthy food choices. Taking vitamins gives you 'permission' to do something bad, while still feeling good about yourself.

Vitamins; a license to indulge in Dutch Spice Nuts (pepernoten) 
To make it worse, another recent study in Addiction showed that taking dietary vitamins decreased the motivation to smoke less, giving smokers an 'illusion of invulnerability'.

Maybe this explains why the huge popularity of dietary supplements has not translated in healthier people.

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