Are Multivitamins Really Just A Waste of Money?
Hardly a week goes by without another headline slating multivitamins. In a bid to set the record straight on what is generally considered to be a health-supportive habit, we’ve taken a closer look at two of the most common myths about multivitamins:
Myth 1: There’s not enough evidence
One reason commonly cited against taking a daily multivitamin is that there isn’t enough evidence from randomised controlled trials to make a recommendation either way. On the surface there’s logic to this view. However, the reality is that it will likely never be possible to conduct randomised trials that are long enough to fully test the effects of a multivitamin on long-term health. So what do we have?
For most people, the potential health benefits of taking a daily multivitamin appear to outweigh the risks.1 And emerging research suggests that multi vitamins and minerals, often at levels above the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA), may reduce chronic disease risk and promote long term optimal health2-6
The Harvard School of Public Health describes a daily multivitamin as a ‘nutrition insurance policy’. In a scientific review on the subject, researchers concluded that, ‘pending strong evidence of effectiveness from randomized trials, it appears prudent for all adults to take vitamin supplements.7
In addition, data from the Zoe app, developed by Professor Tim Spector and his colleagues at Kings College London, is also suggestive of possible benefits. The Zoe app has gathered health data and COVID-19 status from over 4 million users globally since March 2020. In a research paper published in BMJ Nutrition Prevention and Health, researchers looked at data from 445, 850 Zoe app subscribers, taken from the July 31st 2020 data download. They found that UK Zoe app users who were regularly supplementing their diets with multivitamins had a lower risk of testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 by 13%. The authors acknowledged the limitations of their research and concluded that randomised controlled trials are needed to confirm these observational findings before any therapeutic recommendations can be made8-9
Myth 2: Your diet provides everything you need
Many will argue that your diet provides everything you need and that a daily multivitamin is an indulgent waste of money and time. For those who consistently eat a balanced diet containing a wide variety of organic fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, high quality protein and plenty of beneficial fat, and who also take into account the fact that nutritional needs differ according to what’s happening in life, the benefits may be questionable. There are very few people however, who can confidently say that they do this. It’s no mean feat to consume 7-10 portions of organic veg and fruit daily, and to consciously think to add extra servings of magnesium-rich foods into your diet when you’re feeling particularly stressed.
Nutrients may be needed in higher quantities due to:
✓ Exposure to pollution
✓ Poor sleep
✓ Alcohol intake
✓ Chronic disease
Unfortunately, a large proportion of the population relies on processed, nutrient-lacking convenience foods for their staple diet and the National Diet and Nutrition Survey suggests that only 8% of children and less than 30% of adults meet even the 5-a-day fruit and veg recommendations.10 Some research has even suggested that perhaps we actually need to be aiming for 10-a-day if we really want to harness the health-protective powers of plant foods.11
What leads to poor nutrient intake?
✓ Not eating enough good quality fruit and vegetables
✓ Vital nutrients in foods are lost due to common farming practice.
✓ Processing methods can strip the vitamin and mineral content of foods.
✓ Cooking techniques such as over-boiling can further increase the nutrient losses.
Your daily food intake should be held in the highest regard in terms of life’s priorities. For most however, the reality is very different. Food often comes a sorry last, lagging far behind work, social lives and even household chores in terms of priorities. In our fast-paced world, there’s a strong case to argue for a daily multivitamin being a useful addition to our diets. This doesn’t mean we can’t strive towards being part of a society where food is given the thought and attention our health deserves; it just means we need to work with where we are at now whilst we aspire to improve.
If you’re looking for the best of health, choose a daily multivitamin that’s targeted to your needs and contains therapeutic amounts of essential vitamins and minerals in activated, body-ready forms.
1. Ames BN, McCann JC, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. Evidence-based decision making on micronutrients and chronic disease: long-term randomized controlled trials are not enough. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007; 86:522-3; author reply 3-4.
2. Rautiainen S, Rist PM et al. Multivitamin use and the risk of cardiovascular disease in men. J Nutr 2016 Jun; 146(6): 1235-40. doi: 10.3945/jn. 115.227884. Epub 2016 Apr 27
3. Kennedy DO, Stevenson EJ et al. Multivitamins and minerals modulate whole-body energy metabolism and cerebral blood-flow during cognitive task performance: a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2016 Feb 11; 13: 11.doi: 10.1186/s12986-016-0071-4. eCollection 2016
4. Issa OM, Roberts R et al. Effect of high-dose oral multivitamins and minerals in participants not treated with statins in the randomised trial to assess chelation therapy (TACT). Am Heart J. 2018 Jan; 195: 70-77. Doi: 1016/j.ahj.2017.09.002. Epub 2017 Sep 8.
5. Dong JY, Iso H et al. Multivitamin use and risk of stroke mortality: the Japan collaborative cohort study. Stroke 2015 May; 46(5):1167-72. Doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.114.008270. Epub 2015 Mar 31.
6. Ames BN (2001) DNA damage from micronutrient deficiencies is likely to be a major cause of cancer. Mutat Res 475: 7–20
7. Fletcher RH, Fairfield KM, Vitamins for Chronic Disease Preventions in Adults. Journal of the American Medical Association.2002; 287: 3127-3129
9. Louca et al. Modest effects of dietary supplements during the COVID-19 pandemic: insights from 445 850 users of the COVID-19 Symptom Study app. BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health. 2021.7
10. National Diet and Nutrition Survey. Results from Years 5-6 (combined) of the Rolling Programme (2012/13-2013/14) A Survey carried out on behalf of Public Health England and Food Standards Agency.
11. Dagfinn A, Giovannucci E et al. Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality – A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. International Journal of Epidemiology, Vol 46, Issue 3, 1 June 2017, Pages 1029 – 1056. Published 22 February 2017.
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