Healthy adults don’t need multivitamins

multivitaminsFor most, multivitamins are a waste of money

I’m always trying to do two things:

  1. Save my money
  2. Be healthy

It’s not easy when everything about health care costs so much.

So I really don’t want to throw money away on expensive drugstore products that are poorly regulated (if at all) by the FDA, and whose benefits are not supported by the latest scientific research.

Related post: The Quack Miranda Warning

I’ve written several posts about the lack of demonstrated benefit (and possible harm!) of several supplements:

And now the multivitamin is the latest supplement to be debunked.

This week, the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine published a pretty definitive opinion based on the results of three recent, large-scale studies: Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.

With respect to multivitamins, the studies published in this issue and previous trials indicated no substantial health benefit. This evidence, combined with biological considerations, suggests that any effect, either beneficial or harmful, is probably small.

Specifically, the research found

…no evidence that taking daily multivitamin and mineral supplements prevents or slows down the progress of cognitive decline or chronic diseases such as heart diseases or cancer.

If multivitamins don’t work well enough to make us measurably healthier, why spend the money?

Related post: Save your money: Vitamins and herbal supplements

But the marketing will continue

The supplement industry in the US is huge—it raked in $28 billion in 2010, and the use of herbs, vitamins and minerals is only increasing. Currently, about 50% of adults take dietary supplements.

Says Dr. Cynthia Mulrow, who helped write the Annals of Internal Medicine editorial,

People over time and particularly people in the United States have been led to believe that vitamin and mineral supplements will make them healthier, and they’re looking for a magic pill.

Yes, and the supplement industry with its millions to spend on marketing will not give up. They will continue trying to convince us that our diets do not contain enough nutrients, and the more the better.

But it is wrong to assume that taking excess vitamins is risk free. Research has shown that excess doses of beta carotene, vitamin E, vitamin A and calcium are harmful.

A healthy diet is still the best value

The three research studies involved more than 450,000 adults who were followed from 5 to 12 years. To me, that makes the results pretty compelling.

The editorial was clear that it based its recommendation on healthy, “well-nourished” adults with “no nutritional deficiencies.”

Certainly there will be people for whom dietary supplements will be considered: pregnant women, vegans, dieters with limited calorie intake, people with severe food allergies, and people with chronic digestive problems that interfere with nutrient absorption.

Otherwise, as Dr. Edgar Miller of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, one of the editorial’s five co-authors says:

What will protect you is if you spend the money on fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, low fat dairy, things like that. Exercising would probably be a better use of the money.

By giving up multivitamin, calcium and vitamin D supplements, I can put that money towards healthy food items, a cooking lesson, new running shoes, or an exercise class. Much more enjoyable, and more healthful, than popping pills.

Sláinte!

Frugal Nurse

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