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A Closer Look at Multivitamins

Is taking multivitamins healthful, wishful thinking or harmful?

| March/April 2014

  • Multivitamins are expected to make people feel better and prevent illness, but evidence behind these claims is uncertain.
    Photo by Veer

When I was a child, I remember washing down a multivitamin and mineral (MVM) supplement with my orange juice each morning. That red pill fell into the same category as brushing my teeth, eating my vegetables and spending time outdoors—all daily activities somehow linked to health.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone. Supplement use is common in the United States: One-third of Americans take a daily MVM supplement, according to a 2011 study. The question is, why? Most people probably expect a daily multivitamin will make them feel better and prevent common illnesses, but evidence behind these claims is uncertain—does taking a daily multivitamin help boost resistance to disease, or does it do more harm than good?   

Why Do We Take Multivitamins?

“Historically, vitamin and mineral supplements were used to prevent diseases caused by deficiency,” says Ann Diker, chair of the Health Professions Department at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Yet vitamin and mineral deficiencies aren’t common in the U.S. Today, Americans consume many processed foods, and much of it is fortified with vitamins and minerals—a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that a fortification of foods with folate (a B vitamin) has reduced deficiency to less than 1 percent, and deficiency of vitamins A and E are also uncommon.

3/11/2014 10:35:32 AM

It makes a difference whether vitamins are synthetic or derived from natural sources. Most studies do not consider this issue. Many physicians do not know the difference. Also, absorption rates differ between different types of tablets and capsules...and different individuals and the condition of their digestive systems. Listen to your body, read labels, and do your homework.

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