Multivitamins are, for some reason, a bit controversial. Some people say you need them, others insist they do more harm than good. So, what are multivitamins, really? Do you need them? Should everyone be taking one? What constitutes a “good” multivitamin? Are they really dangerous?
What Is A Multivitamin
Most multivitamins are in either capsule or pill form, though some are sold as powders. A multi– vitamin will contain multiple vitamins, minerals, and other elements. Some vitamins for example, only have different B vitamins, alleging stress relief as a benefit. This would not be considered a multivitamin. The majority of multivitamins will contain:
- Vitamin C
- Several B vitamins (1,2,3,5,6,9,12)
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
And depending on the vitamin, more. The dosages will vary product to product as well.
Why Multivitamins Are “Bad For You”
The idea that multivitamins are bad for you, can lead to disease, and should be avoided is brought up frequently. Using weak science, incomplete data, and false assumptions people or organizations will try to scare people away from taking multivitamins. Some reasons commonly given for why multivitamins are terrible for your health are:
- “Abundance” of research associating multivitamin use with increased rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease (CVD)
- No evidence that they increase lifespan
- Little to no government regulation as a supplement
- Vitamins/minerals less bioavailable than in food (somewhat true, as most vitamins and minerals require fat to be absorbed)
Why Multivitamins Are Good For You
There are plenty of things wrong with the reasons listed above as well as how those conclusions were arrived to. First, some simple and clean facts:
- Studies show no increased rates of CVD in men or women
- Decades of data regarding multivitamin use shows a decrease in all-cause mortality
- Yes, it is preferable to get all the vitamins/minerals/elements from diet. It’s just not feasible. For financial, time, and practical reasons, diet alone is not enough
Now let’s look the vitamin deficiencies in American adults not using multivitamins:
- Vitamin D: 96%
- Vitamin C: 48%
- Vitamin E: 96
- Vitamin A: 58%
Those are large numbers.
Vitamin deficiencies in American adults using multivitamins:
- Vitamin D: 25%
- Vitamin C: 3%
- Vitamin E: 5%
- Vitamin A: 2%
The science used to conclude multivitamins are bad for you is executed poorly, along with the omission of data in most published reports. Many of the claims against multivitamins are based off of research with no biochemical analysis done. In other words, no blood work is done in these studies; the research is relying on participants’ memory of what multivitamin(s) they took, how often, for how long, etc.
In the majority of this research the participants end up deficient in one or more vitamins/minerals/elements. This is true. What’s not published is that these participants began the study already deficient in those vitamins/minerals/elements. A similar problem occurs with disease states. Many of the participants begin the study in diseased states, so to say that multivitamin supplementation caused the diseased states observed at the conclusion of the study is disingenuous, at best.
The most egregious aspect of this is when these stories get sensationalized, the data supporting the use of multivitamins is omitted. When reading the actual research data, it’s obvious that overall, multivitamin use is beneficial to health in many aspects, but this is left out, seemingly, for the appeal of a shocking headline.