You may be aware of recent media reports questioning the value of taking a multivitamin. Reports like this are often confusing. By now, you know the drill: Coffee/butter/wine/fill-in-the-blank is bad for you — oh wait, never mind, it’s okay now. How are we supposed to make sense of this stuff?
Well, in addition to our general advice of moderation in all things, we suggest looking at the fine print of such reports and focusing on what questions the researchers asked, how they were answered and how those answers affect us personally.
Here’s how we break down the multivitamin story.
First, the background.
A group of medical doctors published an editorial in the December 2013 Annals of Internal Medicine: “Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements,” in which they stated: “we believe that the case is closed — supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults with (most) mineral or vitamin supplements has no clear benefit and might even be harmful.”
What is “well-nourished”?
It would be fantastic if you ate well enough to get all of your required nutrients on a daily basis from your diet alone. We hope you do!
But the fact is that most of us don’t eat that well. National nutrition surveys show that most adults are deficient in certain key nutrients, including vitamin D, vitamin K, zinc, magnesium, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and more. Different age groups or those with certain health conditions may also be deficient in folic acid, iron and vitamin B12.
The authors failed to acknowledge the benefits of multivitamins for addressing potential nutrient inadequacies. If you feel that your diet isn’t adequately filling your needs, supplementing with multivitamins actually can be convenient and economical.
Supplements — Not Replacements
Supplements aren’t intended to replace a healthy diet. Rather, they can help keep the body strong and well by focusing on prevention and support.
If you eat moderately well, supplements can provide some extra nutritional help. But if you eat a greasy burger with fries at every meal, it’s true you can’t just pop a multivitamin and call it good. That’s the kind of miracle pill the editorial seemed to be looking for.
What about chronic disease?
This is another question the authors sought to address. Will taking vitamin and mineral supplements cure cancer or other chronic diseases? While findings have been mixed, most studies have shown the answer is “no” and that certainly rings true to us.
It seems unrealistic to expect multivitamins to prevent chronic disease or death and we don’t think anyone should take them for that reason alone.
Although less dramatic, multivitamins are valuable in their intended purpose of providing insurance against nutrient deficiencies, so that optimal health and normal physiological function can be maintained.
Are supplements safe?
There’s a long history of safe use. The bulk of the research — clinical, epidemiological and laboratory — indicates that when used properly vitamin and mineral supplements do not cause harm and likely have health benefits. And when you shop at our stores, you are assured of supplements that are free of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and hydrogenated oils.
Ultimately, taking a multivitamin is a personal choice. You may want to consider how well you eat on a normal basis, what your energy levels are like and if you have any unique health conditions or nutritional needs.
A once-daily multi is typically lower in minerals (because they tend to be bulky) and is for someone who wants convenience, simplicity or doesn’t need more than minimum nutrient supplementation on most days.
Multis with a serving size of 3 to 6 capsules or tablets per day have higher potencies and often have added beneficial ingredients such as green foods and enzymes. With these multis, you can take more or fewer depending on how healthy you’re eating that day.
If, like the authors of the editorial, you are expecting multivitamins to combat chronic disease in the way that pharmaceutical drugs do, then taking them for that purpose is misguided.
If you are simply intending to fortify your diet, protect against common nutritional inadequacies, and, like all supplements, support health and optimal functioning, then multivitamins could be a good choice for you.
So, what do you expect from multivitamin supplementation?
For more information, see:
Council for Responsible Nutrition. “Vitamins and Minerals Are Essential to Good Health.”http://www.crnusa.org/CRNPR-VitaminsMineralsEssential121613.html.
Guallar, et al. 2013. “Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.” Annals of Internal Medicine. 159: 850-851. http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1789253.
Health Canada. 2012. “Do Canadian Adults Meet Their Nutrient Requirements Through Food Intake Alone?” http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/surveill/nutrition/commun/art-nutr-adult-eng.php.
Linus Pauling Institute. 2013. “The Case is Far from Closed for Vitamin and Mineral Supplements!”http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/news/enoughisenough-response.html.
Linus Pauling Institute’s Multivitamin/mineral Supplement Monograph: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/multivitamin-mineral.html
MacKay D and Wong A. 2014. “Are Multivitamins a Waste of Money? Dissecting recent multivitamin studies in the Annals of Internal Medicine.” Natural Medicine Journal. http://naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2014-02/are-multivitamins-waste-money/
Moshfegh A, et al. 2005. “What We Eat in America, NHANES 2001-2002: Usual nutrient intakes from food compared to dietary reference intakes.” U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm? docid=13793.
Natural Products Association. 2013. “NPA Defends Continued Use of Multivitamins.”http://www.npainfo.org/NPA/NewsRoom/NewsReleases2013/NPA_Defends_Continued_Use_of_Multivitamins.aspx.