Multivitamins – Are They Worth The Hype?

Multivitamins are everywhere. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and flavors (who doesn’t love a good gummy vitamin?), but according to an editorial which originally appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine journal, they might be a waste of money better spent on fruits and vegetables.

A review of a variety of studies including over 350,000 subjects led researchers to the conclusion that there is no significant decrease in heart disease and only a marginal decrease in cancer risk (and that was only among men).

“We believe that the case is closed — supplementing the diet of well-nourished adults with (most) mineral or vitamin supplements has no clear benefit and might even be harmful,” said the editorial authors. “These vitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention. Enough is enough.”

Multivitamins as whole, they say, don’t seem to hold any additional benefits, so any effect (positive or negative) is probably small.  The studies looked at the effects of multivitamins on cognitive functioning, heart benefits, and preventing cancer and heart disease. In all three studies, no clear benefit was found—but it was discovered that taking Vitamin E could actually contribute to higher lung cancer risk in smokers.

Only Vitamin D was found to need additional research, particularly for people who are deficient.  There was also the recommendation by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that pregnant women take folic acid to prevent birth defects like spina bifida. But these recent conclusions haven’t slowed the market, with the New York Times reporting that in 2011 sales totaled over $30 billion, and that over half of the US population takes some form of supplements.

"The message is simple: Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided," wrote the editorial's authors. "This message is especially true for the general population with no clear evidence of micronutrient deficiencies, who represent most supplement users in the United States and in other countries."

However, the population represented in the studies wasn’t entirely reflective of the American population. Particularly representing folks who may not get ample nutrients and vitamins from their diets (although back in June, I wrote a piece on the right and wrong way to do vitamins, based on resources available at the time). 

While this topic certainly needs more research, it’s clear that the simple takeaway from all this is the same from the June piece: the best way to consume nutrients is through your daily diet, and don’t self-medicate off the mega-vitamin packages.

 Which vitamins do you take daily? Does this news change the way you think about your daily dosage?