Should you take a multivitamin supplement?

Should you take a multivitamin supplement?

Author -  Vicki Martin, Nutritionist and Naturopath

Naturopath Vicki Martin explains how to tell whether you might benefit from taking a multivitamin supplement

Many people take multivitamin supplements in the name of better health. Sometimes there are conflicting reports about them, but top health experts do recommend daily multivitamins for nearly everyone.

Read on to find out why multivitamins matter, tips for picking the best one, and how to bypass potential problems from the most popular dietary supplements.

Multivitamin supplements: Bridging (Some) Nutrient Gaps

A balanced diet goes a long way to getting the vitamins and minerals you need to feel good, and heading off health problems. The trouble is, very few people eat right every day. Meir Stampfer, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School thinks that many people don’t come close to getting what they need for several nutrients.

According to the Dietary Guidelines, USA 2005, adults often have low levels of:

  • Calcium 
  • Magnesium 
  • Vitamin A 
  • Vitamin C 
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E 

“Certain groups run even higher risks for vitamin and mineral deficits,” says Jeffrey Blumberg, PhD, director of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory, and professor of nutrition at Tufts University.

Who’s at Risk?

Over time, small discrepancies in nutrient intakes can prove to be a problem, particularly for women in their childbearing years. For instance:

  • low Iron may lead to anaemia 
  • low Folic acid very early in pregnancy increases the risk some birth defects in developing babies
  • low Vitamin B12 levels can cause irreversible nerve damage in vegans or people who eat few animal foods.

Nutritional Insurance

Stampfer and Blumberg recommend multivitamins as a way to top up diets that are low in nutrients. But, they warn, multivitamins are dietary supplements – not substitutes for healthy eating. That’s because multivitamins lack several important compounds for wellness, including special nutrients and fibre found only in plant foods. Multivitamins often contain less than the recommended daily amount of Calcium and other important minerals, too. Think of them as an insurance policy, but don’t believe they can make up for maintaining a healthy body weight, eating right, and getting regular exercise.

“Overall, multivitamins are a minor component of good health, but worthy ones,” Stampfer says. Blumberg agrees, although he acknowledges that there’s some disagreement about how much multivitamins can really reduce people’s risk of chronic disease. However, he goes on to say that, “… on balance, the evidence for the benefits… far outweighs the potential for harm.”

If you have questions about whether a multivitamin is right for you, talk to your doctor or a dietician.

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007: vol 85(1):277S-279S.