Do you need a multivitamin?

Lisa Nelson, RD, LN Health Pro
  • Multivitamins are marketed as a form of insurance to ‘bridge the gap' between what you consume and what you need to ensure your needs are met. There's much debate on whether or not multivitamins are truly beneficial and the potential for them to cause more harm than good.


    One Size Does Not Fit All


    Everyone's nutritional needs are different. A man does not have the same nutrient needs as a woman, a child does not have the same needs as an adult, a pregnant woman does not have the same needs as a post-menopausal woman, etc.


    If you go to the vitamin aisle you'll see all the options tailored to meet the needs of different groups. For example, you'll find Centrum Silver, Flintstones chewables, and Men's One-A-Day. However, nutrient needs are more specific to the individual. The standard daily value that meets the needs of one individual may be too high or too low for another, even within the same group/category.

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    No Standard Formula


    Too complicate your options further; there is no standard multivitamin formula. The term multivitamin is used to refer to any combination of vitamins and minerals regardless of strength as long as the label includes a list of the vitamins and minerals included.


    Also, what's reported on the label frequently does not match what's in the bottle. The supplement testing company ConsumerLab found that 10 of 38 multivitamin brands contained either more or less of some ingredients when compared to the product label. Regulation of multivitamins is significantly less than regulation of over-the-counter and prescription medication. You have to shop wisely to insure you get what you pay for.


    The use of claims, such as ‘boosts energy' or ‘improves mental alertness' are not evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products must indicate this on the label along with a notice that the product isn't intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


    Higher Cost Doesn't Equal Better Product


    Many times cost is used as a guide to determine which product is better. For multivitamins this is not always the best predictor of quality. A multivitamin that costs less than 10 cents/day at times performed better on tests than more expensive competitors.


    Studies do not support multivitamin use

    So far research is not sufficient to establish a strong link between multivitamin use and health benefits. An 11 year study of 182,099 individuals in Hawaii looked at the relationship between use of multivitamins, mortality, and cancer. Data analysis showed no significant relationship between multivitamins and overall death rates, including death from cardiovascular disease.


    Back in 2006, the National Institutes of Health concluded there is insufficient evidence to either recommend or not recommend use of multivitamins or multiminerals to prevent chronic disease.

    Multivitamin Use


    Surveys indicate that one third of American adults supplement a multivitamin. Individuals most likely to take multivitamins include women, elderly, children, physicians, and people with high incomes, healthy eating habits, and low body mass indexes.


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    These traits show that those who would benefit the most from a multivitamin (i.e. those consuming an unhealthy diet) as the least likely to take the supplement.


    What will you do?


    From research to date the consensus appears to be that if you take a multivitamin it probably won't hurt you, but it's also unlikely to help.


    If you are looking to treat a specific condition with nutrients you feel are lacking in your diet, I recommend discussing with your physician. If possible, have lab work completed to identify whether or not you are deficient of a particular vitamin or mineral. This will help you determine what supplements will provide the health benefit you seek.


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Published On: June 22, 2011