The popularity of taking a daily multivitamin has exponentially increased in the last few decades. Thanks to individualized marketing, there are now multivitamins for every group: men, women, older adults, pregnant women, children. Most people believe that these daily supplements can significantly improve health by meeting micronutrient needs and reducing the risk of chronic diseases. Is this true? Do multivitamins work?
What’s in a multivitamin?
There are 13 vitamins and 16 minerals that every person needs for overall good health. These micronutrients are crucial for regulating hormones, cardiovascular health, bone strength, brain health, and more. Many multivitamins offer a combination of these essential vitamins and minerals but in varying amounts. These daily supplements often also contain herbs, amino acids, or fatty acids.
It’s all about the diet
A multivitamin can be helpful when a person can’t get all the necessary micronutrient needs in a daily diet. For example, older adults may be at risk of vitamin D or calcium deficiency. Vegans and vegetarians often struggle to get enough B12, zinc, or omega-3 fatty acids. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult with a healthcare provider regarding a daily supplement that provides all the adequate nutrients for growing a healthy baby.
What about chronic diseases?
The results of studies regarding multivitamins have been mixed. One study analyzed the effects of taking multivitamins on otherwise healthy men. The daily supplements didn’t seem to offer extra protection against heart attacks, strokes, or declining memory. But the men did experience an 8% lower risk of cancer and a lower risk of developing cataracts. Overall, many studies have concluded that multivitamins don’t significantly lower a person’s risk of chronic disease.
When should I avoid a multivitamin?
Some vitamins and minerals don’t cause harm when a person takes too much, but others carry significant risks. Fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A and D, can have toxic effects when overconsumed. This is because the body has no way to get rid of excess amounts of fat-soluble vitamins, so the result is cumulative over time. For people who get enough of the necessary nutrients through diet or other doctor-recommended supplements, also taking a multivitamin can quickly add up to too much.
How can I improve my health?
Most people experience more benefits from taking supplements that are explicitly recommended by a healthcare provider. For example, some people may experience an improvement in bone health and mood by taking a vitamin D supplement. Others may improve heart health by taking an omega-3 supplement. However, these supplements can offer benefits when the person has a deficiency in a specific nutrient and should only be taken at a healthcare provider’s recommendation.