Are Multivitamins Useless?

>> Feb 4, 2010

A recent study came out from the American Medical Association looking at whether multivitamin/mineral supplements (MVM) help to decrease risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease (CVD), or mortality in postmenopausal women. Long story short - they found no association between MVM and any of the outcomes.

MVM are the most frequently used dietary supplement. It’s estimated that 50% of Americans use MVM. Most people do not get enough vegetables and fruits, which may create a deficit of certain vitamins and minerals. People often rely on supplements as insurance, to “top up” what they may be missing from foods. Currently, there is a lack of data to support the widespread use of these supps.

If you’re deficient in a vitamin, of course it’s beneficial to take a supplement. Most of us, in North America, have a diet that is varied and plentiful enough that we are not deficient (we’ll save the on-going Vitamin D debate for another time). Most of us who take MVM are relatively healthy people. In fact, it’s often the people that care about their health the most, and are doing their best to be healthy already, that take MVMs. So what happens when a healthy person takes an MVM? Could it be harmful?

The evidence is clear as day that a diet high in fruits and veggies helps lower your risk of disease, so the general thought seems to be that, if you’re not getting it from food, pill form must be your next best option, right? Maybe not. There IS such a thing as “too much of a good thing” when it comes to nutrition. We know that it’s best to get your MVM from foods because 1) they offer other wonderful compounds to aid health (fibre, phytonutrients, etc). 2) It’s safer – it’s really difficult or near impossible to reach toxic levels of any vitamin through natural foods alone, 3) MVM work in concert with each other. Certain combinations of MVM in foods help the body absorb and utilize their nutrients best. A pill, in contrast, is a higher dose of all your MVMs all in one shot.

My issues with this study: 1) they only look at a specific group: women who are postmenopausal. Not a good snapshot of the general population. 2) Although the findings in this study point to zero benefit, that doesn’t mean that MVM are useless for everyone. Maybe future studies will speak to that.

My two cents: I think MVM are a personal choice. People who lead a less-than-optimal lifestyle in terms of health may benefit from a MVM, although it certainly won’t undo the damage done by eating out regularly and being a couch potato. For those who exercise and make a purposeful effort at eating well and getting enough fruits and veggies, they probably have less to gain from taking an MVM. In my opinion, all efforts should be focused on improving dietary intake.

Read the study here.



Anne February 7, 2010 at 9:12 PM  
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