How Bad is it to Binge on Gummy Vitamins?

There's calcium in there, so maybe ten or twelve extra can't hurt.
May 12, 2017, 2:00pm
Douglas Sacha / Getty Images

The Scenario: Remember that I Love Lucy episode where she films a commercial for the hot new health tonic, Vitameatavegamin? Lucille Ball recites her lines to the camera, but she can't conceal her disgust with the elixir when she finally gives it a try. Thankfully, our health market has changed, and products are catering to both tastebuds and wellness needs much more than they did in 1952. One of your "friends" can attest to this, as her adult gummy vitamin addiction is real. It started out as a health measure—two black raspberry-flavored gummies in the morning. It quickly turned into three or four. Now she just up-ends the jar on her face for her fix, hoping that she won't go into vitamin D mixed shock and start krumping uncontrollably (this is not a thing).

These gummy vitamins that your friend fiends for represented 7.5 percent of the $6 billion multivitamin market in the United States in 2016, having jumped 25 percent in just the past few years. So it's not just her who's gotten hooked. But is it a problem that the vitamins your friend virtuously takes resemble a gumdrop and tease your tastebuds like Skittles? Is it crazy that she exceeds the serving size—by a lot?

The Basics: While candy-like vitamins were a plot to get kids their nutrients, drugstore aisles now have a tantalizing host of similar products for grownups, promising heart-healthy Omega-3s, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C and plant sterols. Though these tastier iterations tailor to specific demographics and needs—some labels touting nutrients special "For Her" or geared toward making one's "Heart Well"—registered dietitian Karen Sechowski, who works in the Chicago area, does not advise popping several gummy vitamins daily; she says you should always aim to get nutrients from whole foods first. "With food, you're getting so much more than what you would get from a pill form or a gummy vitamin," she says.

Though there are some medical conditions or diets like veganism where specific supplementation is warranted, says Jay Orlander, internist at Boston University School of Medicine, a normal, balanced diet has more than adequate nutrition. If you eat a variety of foods, he says, there's "very little evidence" that taking multivitamins is helpful—gummies included.

The Worst That Could Happen: Sechowski says it depends on which types, but there is a "tolerable upper limit" for certain vitamins and minerals. "If you go beyond the tolerable upper limit, it will become toxic to the body. For instance, if you have too much potassium, that could cause heart problems." She explains that sodium-potassium pumps in your heart exchange molecules of potassium for molecules of sodium, and if you have too much of one of those, it can cause an imbalance and can lead to heart problems. Too much calcium can also cause heart trouble. (If you consume too much Vitamin C, meanwhile, you'll just pee it out.) She doesn't recommend trying new vitamins without speaking to a dietitian or a doctor first, since everybody's case is different.

Orlander, meanwhile, estimates you'd probably have to take "in the order of 50-100 times what is recommended," not just two or three extra gummies.

Back to the (Sugary) Rub: Though gummy vites can contain nutrient-effective ingredients in correct dosages, they also contain non-dietary ingredients to make them taste so damn delicious, such as corn syrup, corn starch and gelatin. "You could have used those calories elsewhere for nutrients that you do need and that you could get from whole foods," Sechowski says of the glorified gumdrops. Gummy vitamins—though they're a relatively small amount of sugar and artificial sweeteners—chip away at the recommended daily sugar intake, making a triple serving worse for your body. The American Heart Association's recommended added sugar limit is six teaspoons for women and nine teaspoons for men, which equates to a slim 150 to 100 calories respectively. Though you may feel unscathed after a gummy binge, a tendency to overindulge on sugar can lead to extra pounds, which puts strain on heart health, among other things.

What Will Probably Happen: Your friend is fairly young and healthy, so the fact that Sechowski estimates the reaction to eating a fistful of gummy vitamins would depend on the individual feels promising. "It's a case by case basis. It all depends on their health history, what they're dealing with at the time. If you take a perfectly normal person who doesn't have any previous health problems, they'd probably be fine."

A multivitamin can't replace the benefits of healthy eating, and a bulk of nutrients should be obtained by eating whole foods so you can reap the benefits of naturally occurring fiber, phytochemicals and antioxidants. Further, there does exist a risk of overdosing on certain vitamins and minerals, so if your vitamin usage has turned into repeated ransacking to satisfy your sweet tooth, go purist with some Sour Patch instead. Sechowski concurs: "I wouldn't [satisfy] your cravings for candy through gummy vitamins."

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