Tag Archives: vitamins

The Licensing Effect and the Unhealthy Habit of Vitamin Supplements

The licensing effect is the phenomenon whereby positive actions or decisions taken now increase negative or unethical decisions taken later. I’ve written about this previously, before I was aware of a general effect:

A Taiwanese study has provided us with a new instance of the licensing effect in action, this time with vitamin supplements. The study found that taking vitamin pills or dietary supplements for health protection increases unhealthy and risky behaviour.

Afterwards, compared with placebo participants, the participants who thought they’d taken a vitamin pill rated indulgent but harmful activities like casual sex and excessive drinking as more desirable; healthy activities like yoga as less desirable; and they were more likely to choose a free coupon for a buffet meal, as opposed to a free coupon for a healthy organic meal (these associations held even after controlling for participants’ usual intake of vitamin pills). […]

The vitamin-takers also felt more invulnerable than the placebo participants, as revealed by their agreement with statements like “Nothing can harm me”. Further analysis suggested that it was these feelings of invulnerability that mediated the association between taking a postulated vitamin pill and the unhealthy attitudes and decisions.

BusinessWeek also points out that this loop of benevolent and self-indulgent behaviour is plainly evident in the shopping habits of consumers… something that marketers know all about.

via @vaughanbell

Vitamins: A Pointless Expense?

Medical research is beginning to suggest that vitamins have questionable health benefits.

One study found that vitamin C is ineffective for cold–prevention unless you’re exposed to extreme physical stress (read: ultramarathon runners and “soldiers during sub-Arctic winter exercises”).

The New York Times looks at this trend, noting that in some cases, vitamins may do more harm than good. However, there are always exceptions (B12 supplements for the elderly and folic acid for women of child-bearing age have proven health benefits) and caveats:

Despite a lack of evidence that vitamins actually work, consumers appear largely unwilling to give them up. Many readers of the Well blog say the problem is not the vitamin but poorly designed studies that use the wrong type of vitamin, setting the vitamin up to fail. Industry groups such as the Council for Responsible Nutrition also say the research isn’t well designed to detect benefits in healthy vitamin users.