How Effective Are Multivitamins?

Think you’ve got your nutritional bases covered if you take your vitamins every day? According to a new editorial published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, it might be a waste of time and money for the majority of us. The New York Times Vitaminsreported that vitamin and mineral supplement sales totaled almost $30 billion in 2011, with more than half of the American population taking at least one supplement. 

The editorial was written in response to three new studies (also published in Annals of Internal Medicine) which found that there is not a strong health benefit to taking most vitamin supplements, nor do they seem to prevent disease or death.  The studies in the journal on which this editorial is based examined the effects of multivitamin use on cognitive functioning in men, the potential heart benefits of multivitamins for people who have suffered a heart attack, and the effects of vitamin/mineral supplements in preventing heart disease and cancer. In all three of these studies, there was generally no benefit found from taking vitamins for these conditions.

The authors, who come from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Warwick and the American College of Physicians said, “The message is simple: Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided. This message is especially true for the general population with no clear evidence of micronutrient deficiencies, who represent most supplement users in the United States and in other countries.” 

The editorial authors noted that in particular, supplements of antioxidants, folic acid, and vitamin B seem to hold no benefits at all and could potentially be harmful, although more research is needed. In addition, high doses of beta carotene and vitamins A and E may be harmful as well. When it comes to multivitamins, there is no evidence they are beneficial either. The writers said, “this evidence, combined with biological considerations, suggests that any effect, either beneficial or harmful, is probably small.” However, they noted that vitamin D supplementation, especially among the vitamin D-deficient population, needs additional research.

Dr. Edgar Miller, one of the authors of the editorial and a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine notes, “the [vitamin and supplement] industry is based on anecdote, people saying ‘I take this, and it makes me feel better.’ It’s perpetuated. But when you put it to the test, there’s no evidence of benefit in the long term.” 


Consult your primary care provider with any questions or concerns, or before you start a new supplementation program.

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Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Bradley Stemke

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