Multivitamins and Showers: When Enough is Too Much

by Jusmita Saifullan

Taking our vitamins and showering every day—these simple tasks have become second nature to most of us. In a health-conscious society where we are constantly bombarded with warnings about the danger of exposure to germs and reminded of the ‘right’ things to eat and drink, it is perfectly logical to think that incorporating the measures above into our daily routines will keep our bodies in top shape. However, science says otherwise. More doesn’t always mean better.

Multivitamin: a Wasted $28 Billion Investment?

Increasingly, studies are supporting the notion that multivitamins may do more harm than good. For example, a series of studies published in 2013 revealed that multivitamins are not actually beneficial towards preventing heart disease or prolonging lifespan, and they don't help to maintain cognitive functioning in the elderly. In fact, evidence is mounting to support that excessive consumption of multivitamins may lead to the development of the same diseases these supplements are thought to prevent (cancer included, in the most extreme cases). However, the potential for multivitamins to do more harm than good remains unknown to the uninformed public, as US consumers spend $28 billion annually on vitamin supplements.

Of course, vitamins can help those with deficiencies to maintain their health. For instance, according to a 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, young children and women tend to have low levels of iodine, and iodine supplements benefit these groups. However, it seems that the general public has taken trends from vitamin deficiencies in specific populations and have interpreted this data as relevant to the entire population. As a result, overconsumption of multivitamins has become a trend in many health-conscious households when, in reality, ingesting too many multivitamins such as beta-carotene and vitamin E can cause serious health conditions. For example, consumption of vitamin E by pregnant women may lead to a higher risk of congenital heart defects in newborns.

What’s the bottom line? While multivitamins maintain overall health by filling in nutrient gaps, the benefits are minimal compared to the potential health risks. Consider saving yourself some money by putting back that bottle of multivitamins next time you go shopping.

The Daily Shower: a Luxury for the Mind, not so Much for the Body.

For many, a shower or bath is an easy way to unwind after a long, stressful day. Conveniently enough, a shower also eliminates dirt and pathogens that found their way onto your skin. Nonetheless, it turns out that the water washes away the good with the bad.

The public’s routine of daily (or even more frequent) showers can have damaging consequences to skin quality and the natural population of microbes that protects the body from harmful pathogens. The skin’s outermost layer, the stratum corneum, is composed of dead skin cells and serves as a protective layer to underlying healthy, living cells. The cells in this top layer are held closely by lipids, which moisturize the skin by trapping moisture. A hot shower, especially one with soap and some form of a skin exfoliant (such as a loofa), can dissolve the lipids that hold the stratum corneum cells together, thereby drying out the skin. Regular showering can cause this layer to thin and expose the healthy, yet delicate skin cells underneath.

As for the natural microbes that live on the skin, frequent showering can disturb the pH, or natural acidity, of the skin and hence affect the number of beneficial bacteria residing there. With the quantity of these microbes reduced, the skin becomes a less effective layer for protection against harmful pathogens.

What’s the solution? While this may seem unappealing for some, studies suggest that the ideal number of showers is one per week, as opposed to the common tendency to bathe daily. Not only can showering less frequently be more beneficial to the body, but water and energy consumption can also be reduced. When viewed from this perspective, a weekly shower is certainly the better hygiene maintenance strategy.

Ignore the Social Stigma

Yes, there is a social stigma associated with not following current health trends, especially when it comes to daily showers. However, the sting of social stigma has little impact on your health, and it is important to not only stay well informed about the reality of health and hygiene methods but to adapt them to your daily routines. If the social stigma is too much to bear, then taking one shower per week can be a secret between you and me.