The 'Uncomfortable' Truth About The Vitamins You're Taking

"Harder to get into a vitamin chemical plant that it was to get into a nuclear power plant."

Maintaining health and fitness isn't easy but with the promise of an easier way to strong nails, shiny hair and better sleep, it can be tempting to gravitate towards man-made vitamins.

Vitamins are humanity's life blood. The vitamins our bodies naturally produce or the ones we get from food are part of what keeps the human body alive.

"In the most bold terms, without vitamins we get sick and we die eventually," director of new documentary Vitamania Sonya Pemberton told ten daily.

"But of course, a lot of people like to think if a little is good then more is better."

Pemberton spent the last three years working with YouTube star Dr Derek Muller on a documentary about the $100 billion global vitamin industry. There are over 85,000 vitamin and dietary supplements on the market and Pemberton says the majority of these are synthetically produced -- even if they have the word 'natural' printed on the bottle.

"What is being overlooked is that these are chemical molecules and the majority are made in chemical plants mostly in Asia. Does that matter? Well, I think it matters because we need to remember that these are not ground up fruits and veggies," Pemberton said.

"This is not a magic pill... they are synthetically created products most of the time -- by most of the time I mean the vast majority of the time."

Most vitamins are made of chemicals, not crushed up vegetables. Image: Getty Images.

When making the documentary, Pemberton was surprised by a number of things. Firstly, she and her team were unable to film inside a vitamin raw materials plant to see how the actual vitamins are made. Instead, they had to create chemical molecules themselves to ensure they understood how they were manufactured.

"We recently produced a series called Uranium-Twisting the Dragons Tail ... and I was surprised that it was harder to get into a vitamin chemical plant that it was to get into a nuclear power plant. It was easier for us to get into a nuclear power plant in the Ukraine and in the USA and fly drones over them than it was to film in any vitamin chemical factory."

"To not be allowed inside, to not be able to really see how they are built that makes me uncomfortable."

Lack Of Regulation In Australia A Major Surprise

Pemberton was also surprised by the vitamin legislation in Australia.

"There are no regulations that say you must test your product for safety before you put it on the market," Pemberton said.

" …these are powerful molecules that can claim they're going to change my health, yet there is no requirement that the company tests them for safety or effectiveness before they put the product on sale."

There are no law regulating the testing of vitamins in Australia. Image: Getty Images.

Therapeutic Goods Administration do post-sale testing and they found 80 percent non-compliance of a testing sample of around 400 goods in the last few years. Of that 80 percent non-compliance, the majority were false or inaccurate claims, insufficient evidence and bad labelling, but about ten percent are actual low quality or faulty products.

"Basically that means that there is a lot of rubbish being put out there," Pemberton said.

The Heartbreaking Reality Of Vitamin Underdose

In a world where people in developed nations are taking vitamins without a genuine medical need for them, there are growing problems related to overdosing on products the body does not need.

"The truth is in the developing world it is utterly the reverse story," Pemberton said.

"You see hundreds of thousands of children and adults that are vitamin deficient and desperately need to get additional nutrients into their diets."

So the ultimate irony of this story is that we appear to take vitamins in reverse proportion to our needs. In other words, the people who need the most get them least and the people who need them least take them most.

For those who are genuinely vitamin deficient, or who have special needs (like pregnant women) it's clear that vitamins can be lifesavers.

"When they [the vitamins] are well made products and they are given to people with genuine deficiencies then yes, they work. If they are well made products and they are given to people who have no deficiency then they appear to do nothing."

Treat Vitamins Like Medicine

One of the expert nutritionists Pemberton spoke to for the documentary left her with a few words of advice.

Nothing can substitute a balanced diet. Image: Getty Images.

"When you reach for that vitamin container stop for a second and think about what that means. It usually means you think something is lacking, you think you need something extra or you think your kids need something extra and instead of just grabbing those pills, you should think maybe this is a warning that something is missing from my diet," Pemberton said.

"If you eat fresh fruit and vegetables and you have a balanced diet you are going to get everything you need from your food."

But if you do feel the need to take a vitamin for an illness, treat the vitamin like a medicine and make a calculated and careful decision.

To find out ways to watch Vitamania at