The Buzz: Multivitamins

What’s the buzz?

Could multivitamins lead your health astray?

What does the science say?

From pricey pills to smoothie powders, vitamins claim an entire aisle in most grocery stores and pharmacies. However, while the nutritional boost once seemed like a no-brainer, multivitamins have been at the center of controversy over the years, leaving many people questioning their health value.

Multivitamins are not necessarily a ticket to health — in most cases they appear to have a neutral effect. For example, one study shows no increase or decrease in risk of death from cancer or cardiovascular disease among people who took multivitamins. Other research indicates that multivitamins do not reduce the risk of disease. Some research has actually linked multivitamin use to increased risk of a chronic diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease; however, it’s not a cause-and-effect relationship and we don’t know which comes first — the disease or the multivitamin use. That is, people who are sick may be more likely to take a multivitamin in an effort to improve their health. There have been cases where vitamin and mineral supplements proved to be more harmful than helpful. For example, one infamous study shocked the supplement world when it showed that beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A) supplementation actually increased risk of lung cancer among men who smoke and another linked high levels of vitamin E supplementation to increased risk of prostate cancer. So, more is not always better. Some vitamins can actually interfere with certain medications and medical treatments, so it’s always best to ask your doctor before starting a new supplement.

What’s the takeaway?

While it’s likely that a daily multivitamin is not harmful as long as doses are within the recommended range, it probably won’t provide much benefit, so you could be wasting your money. Most people can get everything they need from food by eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean and/or plant-based proteins, along with some healthy fats, which are essential for absorbing vitamins A, D, E, and K. If you have a known nutrient deficiency, it is important to consult with your doctor, but a multivitamin or other supplement can help close the gap. Be sure to read labels before you choose a supplement as there are no standard dosages for multivitamins, so you’ll want to make sure you’re getting what you need — and not in excess.

To learn more, check out Can Supplements Offer All the Nutrition We Need?