You may have seen headlines recently that provide confusing messages about taking a daily multivitamin. Observational studies performed by researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that taking multivitamins increased risk of premature death in older Midwestern women. Furthermore, the Iowa Woman’s Health study reported that those taking a daily multivitamin were 6 percent more likely to die over the 19 year study period than those that did not take one. Not all studies however support these observations.
Do multivitamins protect against disease?
Although the above referenced studies suggest increased risk of death when taking a daily multivitamin, others do not support this contention. For example, a placebo-controlled clinical trial, the Physician’s Health study, found that taking a multi did not increase (or decrease) risk for heart attack or stroke. This study asked participants to either take a multivitamin or not for a period of 11 years. Of note, prostate cancer development was slightly lower (~8%) in those taking the multi, but risk of other cancers was not different between study groups. Importantly, this study was able to link cause and effect, unlike the epidemiological studies cited above. It’s thus safe to say that the data from large-scale clinical trials and observational studies are not convincing on either side at this time. So, what’s a person to do and what should be the take home message?
Who should take a multivitamin and why?
For those who do not obtain enough of several critical nutrients, taking a multi is a good idea. The nutrients of concern, as identified by nutrition experts, are as follows: vitamin B12, vitamin D, folic acid, iron, calcium, potassium and fiber. Fiber, potassium and calcium are too bulky to fit into a pill, so these should be obtained from the diet. A daily multi however, can provide amounts of the other 4 to make up for dietary deficiencies. Many consider multivitamins as insurance against disease development, but if you consume adequate levels of these nutrients of concern, the multi will have little added benefit.
What type of product is recommended?
If you do choose to take a daily multivitamin, choose one that has no more than 100% the DV for the added nutrients. Avoid products that contain more than RDA for iron for adults (which varies depending upon gender and eating patterns). Furthermore, since the calcium content of most multivitamins is low, you might consider taking calcium supplements, particularly if you don’t consume dairy products. Also keep in mind that more expensive does not necessarily mean better. You should be able to find a suitable product for less than $10/month.
So, what do you think, do multivitamins promote health and protect against disease development? Are you going to rethink this situation for yourself and keep abreast of the latest scientific developments on this issue? What is most important is that each of us gets the daily nutrients we require for good health, and if a multivitamin allows you to accomplish this, it’s certainly not a bad idea.