Should I take a daily multivitamin?

Ryan Hunton

Last month, multivitamins were declared obsolete. Three studies and an accompanying editorial published in Annals of Internal Medicine presented a case against the effectiveness of multivitamins in the prevention of disease. The editorial stated: “The message is simple. Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided.”

The message published last month is simple. Nonetheless, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, around 40 percent of us take a multivitamin, and we will spend an estimated $30 billion this year on vitamin supplements.

Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine Dr. Andrew Weil, disagrees with the conclusions of the authors. He believes that a daily multivitamin, among other supplements, contributes to better overall health. In a response to the editorial called ‘The Value of Vitamins’ he wrote: “This editorial’s basic premise is flawed. The purpose of multivitamins isn’t to prevent or cure chronic disease by themselves. The purpose is to correct sub-optimal blood levels of nutrients … There are studies that show advantages in terms of lowering disease risk, but even if you choose to ignore those – as these authors did – benefits in terms of improved overall health and well-being are, I believe, undeniable.”

Here is the logic: a daily multivitamin taken by mouth presumably ‘fills the gaps’ that may occur in one’s diet. For instance, if you miss your morning cup of orange juice, a well-known source of vitamin C, your daily multivitamin which also contains a dose of the vitamin will cover your loss. Multivitamins usually also include less common vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B12 and selenium. In this manner, a multivitamin has been compared to an insurance plan protecting against whatever deficiency, stress, or fatigue may come.

This logic assumes, firstly, that a person does not get enough of a given vitamin from his or her diet. Many experts agree that people not eating many types of vegetables and fruits may require some sort of supplementation, particularly of less common vitamins and minerals. Secondly, the logic assumes that multivitamins work as effectively as vitamins in their natural sources. In fact, a 2013 report found problems in the quality of nearly 40 percent of multivitamins tested. The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate multivitamins, and the quality of different brands vary greatly.

The three studies published last month suggest that most multivitamins provide no benefit against heart disease, cancer, dementia, or the prevention of heart attacks. Several previous studies have also found little justification for the use of multivitamins in the prevention of chronic disease. Whether a daily multivitamin provides any benefit continues to be debated. One thing for sure: eating a diverse combination of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains is the best way to give us the nutrients that we need. There is likely no equivalent to that which nature provides.

Key links:

“Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.” Annals of Internal Medicine:

“The Value of Vitamins.”

“What’s Really in Your Vitamins?” The Dr. Oz Show: