Do I Need to Take a Multivitamin?

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health care awareness

The common wisdom for ages has been that you can make up for a diet lacking in healthy substance by simply swallowing a multivitamin and/or a few mineral pills each day. That explains why multivitamin/mineral pills are the most commonly used supplements in the U.S. Folks think that if they keep taking their daily multivitamins, they'll ward off that coming cold or flu and help you remain healthy.

We at Concorde, of course, want our students, faculty and staff to remain healthy. But there have been some recent health care awareness studies that suggest people are relying way too much on their multivitamins and are expecting prevention of diseases which doesn't exist. While some observational studies have suggested that multivitamins can have a positive effect on one's immune system, more comprehensive clinical trials have suggested otherwise.

An article published nearly two years ago by the University of California, Berkeley asked the ages-old question, "Do you need a multivitamin?" The conclusion? It depends.

What the health care awareness studies show

Several years ago, scientists at the National Institutes of Health concluded that evidence concerning the effectiveness and safety of multivitamins is "limited and inconclusive."

A 2009 health care awareness study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine analyzed data from the Women's Health Initiative and found that multivitamin use did not reduce the risk of cancer or cardiovascular disease. A year later, however, two studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition analyzed a decade of data from more than 30,000 Swedish women and found that women who took multivitamins were 27 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack. The second study, however, linked multivitamin use to a 19 percent increased risk of breast cancer.

Two clinical trials in 2012 from Harvard involving 14,600 physicians found that those taking a daily multivitamin were eight percent less likely to develop cancer over 11 years compared to those taking a placebo. But there was no reduced risk of heart attack or stroke. In 2013, an Australian meta-analysis of 21 randomized controlled trials, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that multivitamin use has no effect on all-cause mortality rates.

Can you take too much?

Many multivitamins contain excessive amounts of minerals, which can have negative effects. Large doses of copper, for instance, can interfere with the absorption of zinc, and vice versa.

What to do?

Consider taking a daily multi of you are in one of these groups.

  • You are over 60. Many older people don't get the nutrients they need for various reasons. Major problem nutrients include vitamin D, certain B vitamins and magnesium.
  • You are a woman of childbearing age. Women capable of becoming pregnant need at least 400 micrograms daily of folic acid. This B vitamin helps prevent neural tube birth defects. Premenopausal women can benefit from the iron in a multi.
  • You are pregnant or breastfeeding. Discuss your special needs with your doctor.
  • You are a strict vegetarian. If you eat no animal products, you might not get enough vitamin B12, zinc, iron and calcium.
  • You are on a weight-loss diet or are a heavy smoker or drinker.

Keep in mind

Through all the health care awareness research and science, one thing remains certain. The use of multivitamins or mineral pills can never take the place of a healthy, balanced diet. Foods - particularly fruits, vegetables and whole grains - provide fiber as well as many potentially beneficial compounds not found in any pill.

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