Do I Need To Take a Daily Multivitamin?

Should I Take a Daily Multivitamin?

It seems like every week a new study is released about the benefits or harms of a certain vitamin or mineral. It’s no surprise that there’s so much scientific interest: more than one third of Americans take a multivitamin, and in 2011 alone Americans spent $5.2 billion on these pills, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS).

The labels on multivitamin bottles will have you believe that you need to take a multivitamin in order to be all you can be. But do you?

Are multivitamins the cure-all people seem to think they are? Do these pills deliver on their promises? Should you take them? Are they worth the price? We talked to registered dietitian Kelly Pritchett, PhD, RD, CSSD, Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics who helped us sort fact from fiction.

What is a multivitamin?

According to the ODS, there is no standard or regulatory definition for “multivitamin/mineral (MVM) supplements.” Multivitamin manufacturers decide how much of what goes into their product. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not analyze the content of dietary supplements. Manufacturers are expected to guarantee the identity, purity, strength and composition of their dietary supplements through good manufacturing practices (GMP).

“I think of multivitamins as ‘insurance’ to a person’s diet,” says Pritchett. “They can help people get the recommended amount of nutrients, and they can help treat a person’s diagnosed nutrient deficiency to achieve improved health and wellbeing.”

There are various ways multivitamins can be classified or grouped, the ODS groups them in the following manner:

  • Broad-spectrum multivitamins contain most or all of the recognized vitamins and minerals, usually at levels close to recommended dietary allowance (RDA). Certain multivitamins cater to specific populations (such as children, the elderly, pregnant women, and men) and may have differing amounts of the same vitamins and minerals. These are your typical once-a-day multivitamins.
  • Multivitamins that contain high levels of certain vitamins and minerals above the recommended dietary allowance to treat specific medical conditions caused by nutrient deficiency.
  • Specialized multivitamins are used to improve performance, energy, immune function, weight control or manage the symptoms of menopause. These may include vitamins and minerals, along with specialty ingredients that are geared specifically for the medical condition being addressed.

What are the benefits of taking multivitamins?

“Multivitamins, if taken on a regular basis, can help people meet nutrient recommendations,” says Pritchett. “But whether a multivitamin is actually beneficial really depends on what’s in it.” It is important to pick the multivitamin that works for your age, gender or medical condition. Review the different multivitamin choices with your pharmacist or doctor to make sure it fits your needs.

Can multivitamins cause harm?

Perhaps. “People may not be well educated on the safety of dietary supplements, or they may have difficulty reading or interpreting supplement labels,” says Pritchett. “If a person takes high dose multivitamins, or multiple supplements a day, he or she can exceed their tolerable upper intake level.”

A tolerable upper intake level (UL) is the level at which a nutrient can be consumed and not cause negative health effects. Says Pritchett, “If daily intakes exceed a person’s UL, he or she risks negative health effects.”

The ODS points out that multivitamins can help people get enough of some nutrients, but too much of others.

Always discuss which multivitamins you are taking with all of your medical providers. Some prescription medications may interact negatively with dietary supplements, causing adverse events needing further medical care. Bring a list of all the prescription medications and dietary supplements you are taking to your appointments so that you and your doctor can discuss the benefits and potential disadvantages of your regimen.

Do multivitamins prevent disease?

Seems like the jury’s out on this one. The national government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines says, “Sufficient evidence is not available to support a recommendation for or against the use of multivitamin/mineral supplements in the primary prevention of chronic disease for the healthy American population.”

Does everyone need to take a multivitamin?

“No, not necessarily,” says Pritchett. “Eating a wide variety of nutritious foods is the best way to get all of the vitamins and minerals needed to decrease the risk of chronic disease.”

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that eating a balanced diet high in nutrient-dense foods is the best way to promote health and reduce disease risk. The federal government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans also suggest that “nutrients should come primarily from foods,” but says that in certain cases, “dietary supplements…may be advantageous in specific situations to increase intake of a specific vitamin or mineral.”

The ODS suggests that dietary supplements may help specific population groups, including:

  • Postmenopausal women
  • Women who might become pregnant or are pregnant
  • Breastfed infants
  • Men or women over the age of 50

Do you take a multivitamin? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below!

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