Major new studies on multivitamins suggest they are no use to those who already have a reasonable diet, and this is not good news for an industry worth $30 billion a year.
Recent scholarly articles that have appeared in the pages of Annals of Internal Medicine, have made it clear, unless you have been tested by a doctor and been shown to be short of micronutrients, taking more will have no effect on your health. Indeed, there is also no evidence to suggest that vitamins prevent or mitigate chronic illnesses of any kind. In the over 65 age group, taking multivitamins does nothing to prevent loss of memory or other mental functions, and in other studies that included up to 400,000 people, no improvement in health was found with multivitamins.
Worst of all, it has been suggested that taking too much beta-carotene, and vitamins A and E, may actually do harm.
These results are not even particularly new; similar studies to this have conducted before and found little or no value in multivitamins, but these studies were the largest and most detailed yet. The reality is that although these substances are needed to be healthy, but most modern diets include enough of them that taking more adds no value. What is more, if a diet is so poor that these supplements are needed, the likely tertiary effects of the poor diet will significantly outweigh the benefits of taking the vitamins anyway.
This is significant news when one considers that half of all US adults use supplements each day.
Is it final then that multivitamins are of no use? Actually, no.
Many people do in fact have to deal with long-term illnesses that leave them only able to eat small amounts of soft foods. In these cases, multivitamins are important as a food supplement. Also those who are habituated to not eat fruit or vegetables can benefit from them, but are likely to face significant other health issues. Children who are “finicky” eaters have also shown a benefit from the supplements, but parents are encouraged to find a way around the fussiness. Another group is the elderly, who, out of difficulty with shopping trips, or forgetfulness, may end up eating unbalanced diets several days a week.
Vitamin B-12 is still essential for vegans and many vegetarians, as this is only found in animal foods and is essential for blood and nerve cells. Iron supplements are important for the anemic, or a diet heavy with meat and beans is necessary. Vitamin D is important if it is impossible to get a few minutes of sun each day, or for babies who only consume breast milk.
It may also be important for expecting mother to takes vitamins as this helps in early development. Although a balanced diet, despite food urges, should also be maintained. Indeed, folic acid is extremely important in the first stages of pregnancy as this has been demonstrated to help prevent certain diseases.
Multivitamins cannot ultimately be discarded as no use, but they are currently consumed at a rate that far outweighs their benefits.
By Andrew Willig