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  • Writer's pictureDavid Wilderman

What You Really Need to Know About Multivitamins

It sure does seem that there’s a pill for almost every type of disease imaginable nowadays. Especially when it comes to vitamins, Americans are a supplement-happy group! We spend close to $14 billion a year on vitamins and supplements. And nearly 40% of adults in the U.S. regularly take multivitamins. But the real question is are regular multivitamin users actually benefiting from them? The research might suggest otherwise.

The question of “should I or shouldn’t I take a multivitamin” started gaining traction back in the ’70’s when Nobel Prize-winning scientist Linus Pauling wrote Vitamin C and the Common Cold. Pauling recommended taking 3,000 mg of vitamin C every day to ward off colds and prevent degenerative and sometimes incurable diseases. This was in shocking contrast to the 60mg recommended daily allowance (RDA) at the time. And wow, did people listen! Sales of vitamin C quadrupled, and an estimated 50 million individuals in the U.S. were supplementing with vitamin C by the mid 1970s. A number of studies subsequently followed to discredit Pauling’s claims, but they certainly did little to discourage vitamin marketers from taking advantage of the hype.

Even today, the debate rages on. We use dietary supplements for a number of reasons, mostly to improve or maintain overall health. Also, many of us are not getting enough basic nutrients from sources such as fruits and vegetables. Studies show that a significant amount of people in the U.S. had total usage intakes below the recommended daily amounts for vitamin A (34%), vitamin C (25%), vitamin D (70%), vitamin E (60%), calcium (38%), and magnesium (45%).

So we take vitamin supplements to help make up for these nutritional deficiencies. The question, however, remains--do these supplements actually work or are they doing more harm than good?

Should You Take A Multivitamin?

Well, this is where things start to get a bit tricky. There has been no shortage of studies on the efficacy of multivitamins. The problem is that the science is sending mixed signals. As an example, scientists in one study of 38,772 women found that multivitamins may be associated with an increased risk of dying. Another study found that individuals who take multivitamins do not live any longer on average than those who don’t.

But what about multivitamins and cancer, you ask? Well, one study showed that multivitamins may help to reduce prostate cancer risk by 8% in men aged 50+. However, others have found an increased risk of cancer associated with high antioxidant intake.

And when it comes to heart health, a recent study of U.S. physicians found that multivitamins do not protect against major cardiovascular events, including heart attacks, stroke, and death from cardiovascular disease. Another recent study titled “Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements” concluded that popping pills does not help to prevent against chronic diseases and can even lead to a decline in overall health. Instead of spending big bucks for vitamins and minerals from A to Z, the authors of the study believed that people should focus on incorporating all food groups into their diets.

So What’s The Bottom Line?

Obviously, there is still fierce debate on the effectiveness of multivitamins. For some, specific supplements have a clear benefit. For example, women who are or may become pregnant need folate, a B vitamin that is important for lowering the risk of having a baby with spina bifida or anencephaly (400 micrograms/day according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Individuals over 50 might also experience low levels of vitamin B12 and could benefit from a supplement.

Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on when it comes to multivitamins, you’re right–there is research to support your argument! If you are struggling to eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables per day (which varies depending upon your age, sex, and activity level), then taking a multivitamin can be a good insurance policy, and it appears that the benefits outweigh the potential harm. However, if you live a healthy and active lifestyle that includes a balanced diet, you probably won’t get much benefit from taking one.

And as always, if you or someone you know needs some guidance in how to start an exercise program, progress one to stay active, or just where to begin to get physical activity into your daily routine, call me at (302)691-9055 or visit my website at to schedule your FREE 30 minute Discovery Visit to see how Physical Therapy can help. Don’t delay–schedule now!

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