Everyone has heard of multivitamins – those one-a-day pills designed to give you all the nutrition you need in one place. However, over recent years there has been some controversy amongst health experts as to whether multivitamins are advisable for everyone.
With so many conflicting opinions on the matter, it’s easy to get confused. Should you take a multivitamin? Are they even good for you? Read on to find out.
Who Should Take Multivitamins?
In general, most people should consider taking a multivitamin. Certain minerals and vitamins which are essential for our bodies to work. Everything from calcium for strong bones and teeth to vitamin B12 producing the hemoglobin in our blood. Our bodies are incapable of producing some of these, therefore, we must get what we need from our diet.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, many people consume more calories than they need without taking in enough nutrients including vitamins. Low dietary intake of this kind is a cause of concern as deficienciescan lead to serious health conditions.
In a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 10% of the entire US population is deficient in at least one essential nutrient. With the highest number of deficiencies being in vitamins B12, B6, C, D and E as well as minerals including iron and folate.
It is also incredibly important for people who are on restrictive diets, such as vegans and vegetarians, people with food allergies and those who are pregnant and breastfeeding to supplement with multivitamins according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).
Even people who follow a reasonably healthy diet can normally benefit from some added vitamins and minerals in the form of supplementation. For example, vitamin D deficiency is a major problem in the US. We produce vitamin D via sun exposure. A recent study showed that vitamin D deficiency is a common problem in the US and is linked to a number of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and is an “important risk factor of leading causes of death in the United States”.
The best way to ensure you are getting all the vitamins and minerals you need is through a balanced and varied diet of whole foods. However, if you feel you are not meeting your daily vitamin and mineral needs, you can always try a multivitamin supplement.
Vitamins come in two varieties:
- Water-soluble vitamins are easily absorbed by the body, which doesn’t store large amounts. The kidneys remove those vitamins that are not needed.
- Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed into the body with the use of bile acids, which are fluids used to absorb fat. The body stores these for use as needed.
Vitamins – The Basics
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Pantothenic acid
Minerals – The Basics
Are Multivitamins Ever Bad For You?
When considering multivitamins, most experts and extensive research would lead you to believe ‘yes, multivitamins are good for you.’ However, in the past few years, a lot of controversy has arisen over the effects of multivitamin use long term.
Although we have established that most Americans don’t meet their daily nutritional needs, at the same time, most people are not suffering from extremely severe deficiencies. Even in the case of those suffering from iron deficiency anemia for example, a few months of using supplements is enough to solve the issue. Taking supplements for life is not necessary.
According to a number of studies, the same can be said of multivitamins. Of course, we must remember that the supplement market is a big money maker, so companies will promote the many benefits of taking multivitamins for the rest of your days. But when it comes to maintaining optimum health, this may not be the case.
There are some vitamins found in a multivitamin supplement which if taken in high doses over long periods of time, could cause some major health issues.
Let’s take vitamin C for example. If you have a reasonably healthy diet, there’s a good chance you are meeting your vitamin C daily needs. Adding a multivitamin which has 100% of RDV would mean you were actually getting 200% or more of your RDV.
Studies have shown that although vitamin C is generally safe, megadoses can increase your risk of kidney stones.
Another study followed 38,772 women who continuously used multivitamins over 25 years. It was found that the overall risk of death increased with long-term use of multivitamins inclusive of vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc, and copper.
I think the bottom line is, for the majority of people, short term use of multivitamins can be beneficial for overall health.
The best thing to do is if you feel your diet is not meeting your nutritional needs or you experience vitamin deficiency symptoms is to speak to your doctor. A simple blood test can shed light on your overall health and they may recommend use of multivitamins. Once you feel like you are no longer experiencing symptoms and are feeling better, follow up with your doctor who may confirm and recommend you stop supplementing.