Are We Wasting Money on Multivitamins?

A lot of money is spent every year on multivitamins, but how much evidence is there for them? In other words, do they really improve your overall health and cut down on diseases? The best studies show that, unfortunately, no, a typical daily multivitamin does not help…

There are a lot of recent studies which do indeed show little to no benefit in overall mortality in those taking a multivitamin for years. One very powerful recent study, the famous Womens Health Initiative study, followed 160,000 women over 8 years and found no major difference between groups. The New York Times discusses this and other recent studies in their excellent review (Vitamin Pills – A False Hope?). Not only may extra doses not help as much as hoped, but high doses of some, including antioxidants like vitamin E or beta carotene, may actually cause health problems.

The take-home message is that no supplement can replace the complex vitamins you get in a healthy diet, with enough fruits and vegetables.  Perhaps vitamin D is different, as there was a lot of evidence last year that a supplement may help, but other vitamins, including the antioxidants, just haven’t panned out well in terms of health benefit. I’ll talk more about vitamin D soon. In the meantime, I suppose I’ll continue taking my multivitamin at least until it runs out (I got a huge jar from Costco and might as well use it!)…


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2 thoughts on “Are We Wasting Money on Multivitamins?”

  1. Here's a comment from a reader:

    In response to your "Are We Wasting Money on Multivitamins?", I have long given much credence to multiple vitamin-mineral supplements (so very American, n'est-ce pas?). Although I am simultaneously suspicious of any big industry — health or otherwise — that needs to support itself, I thought I would send a link that refers to the comment I read years ago regarding foods grown on depleted soils, "Depleted Soils = Depleted Foods" (http://www.betterhealthworx.com/depletedsoils.html) — posted by a company that most certainly has something to sell — which argues that foods are vitamin/mineral depleted. On the other hand, another article, "Are Depleted Soils Causing a Reduction in the Mineral Content Of Food Crops?" (http://www.soils.wisc.edu/~barak/poster_gallery/minneapolis2000a/index.html) argues the opposite. They start out by saying, "Several studies of historical food composition tables show an apparent decline in food nutrient content over the past 70 years. This decline has been attributed to soil degradation and the “mining” of soil fertility by industrial agriculture." but conclude that, "The relatively stable relationships among the three macronutrient cations argues that either all three are being depleted proportionally from soils or, alternatively, none of them is depleted in soils and that alternative explanations must be sought for changes in composition when observed. The widespread use of soil testing and fertilizers as part of the strategy for the increasing yields of modern agriculture also argues strongly against the notion of widespread soil depletion of mineral nutrients." Food for thought… and continued study.

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