The dazzling array of bottles lined up in any supplement store seems to suggest that we need large amounts of vitamin supplements in our diet. But do we really? Is the ever-popular multivitamin a requirement for our health and happiness? The answer is not as clear-cut as some of us would like, but new evidence is showing that there are not as many benefits as we may think.
A new study conducted by Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School has found that taking a daily multivitamin did not have a significant impact on man’s likelihood of having a heart attack or stroke. Researchers wrote that their findings "do not support multivitamin use to prevent CVD [cardiovascular disease], demonstrating the importance of long-term clinical trials of commonly used nutritional supplements." Well, there you have it, right? Time to chuck those bottles in your medicine cabinet. Well, not so fast…
Another recently-conducted study was published in the same journal – the same issue, in fact. This study found that men over 50 who regularly take multivitamins have an 8% lower chance of contracting certain cancers. While this study focused on men, there is a chance the results may reflect what women may experience as well.
So the question of whether to take a multivitamin cannot be conclusively answered through studies. What, then, do you need to know when making this decision for yourself?
What is a multivitamin?
Understanding what you are putting into your body is the first step to making an informed decision. Multivitamins are a combination of many of the essential vitamins and minerals that your body needs to survive. Different multivitamins offer different amounts of these materials.
A multivitamin is a good way to supplement an already healthy diet. They are not a magic bullet that will meet all your nutritional needs. The people who benefit most from these vitamins are those who stick to a healthy diet but who may be lacking in a few important nutrients. Multivitamins can fill the gaps, but they are not a substitute for a healthy diet.
What do multivitamins not do?
Besides not being a magical dietary bullet, there has not been a strong amount of evidence either way about their ability to prevent certain diseases. The studies mentioned above provide a little more insight into the restrictions of multivitamins. However, the benefits they offer may be more indirect. While they may not stop a heart attack, a well nourished body will be better able to handle whatever problems come its way.
What are the risks of multivitamins?
There are both direct and indirect risks involved with taking vitamin supplements. Overdosing is a possibility when taking these supplements. It is important to stick to the dose on the label. Never take two multivitamins concurrently unless your doctor has instructed you to.
The other risk of multivitamins is less physical and more mental. It is easy to assume that since you are taking a supplement all of your nutritional needs will be met. With this mindset you may be less likely to make healthy choices in diet and exercise. A multivitamin cannot make up for the damage done by a diet of fast food and a sedentary lifestyle. Understanding this is crucial to establishing an effective vitamin regimen.
Certain groups of people are encouraged to add a supplement to their diet. This is particularly true of pregnant women. Having the right vitamins and minerals on hand will help to ensure that a fetus develops properly. Folic acid is particularly important for developing babies and should be taken by all women of childbearing age. Vitamins specifically designed for pregnant women are available.
So, should you or shouldn’t you take a multivitamin? Talk with your doctor and see what they say. If they okay it, there is no reason not to. As these recent studies have proven, there is no definitive answer one way or the other as to whether multivitamins will prevent certain diseases. However, as long as you start a vitamin regimen with the understanding that it cannot make up for any bad decisions you might make, multivitamins can be a tool in helping your body to get the nutrients it needs.