Why are you taking a multivitamin?

For most Americans, a daily multivitamin is an unnecessary habit.



Are you one in three Americans who down a multivitamin every morning, probably with a sip of water? The truth about this popular habit may be hard to swallow.

“Most people are better off just drinking a big glass of water and skipping the vitamin,” says Dr. Pieter Cohen, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and internist at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance. In addition to saving money, you’ll have the satisfaction of not succumbing to deceptive marketing ploys.

Indeed, for the average American adult, a daily multivitamin provides no significant health benefit, as the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recently noted. Their review, which analyzed 84 studies involving nearly 700,000 people, found little to no evidence that taking vitamin and mineral supplements helps prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease that can lead to heart attacks and accidents. cerebrovascular disease or to prevent early death.

“We have good evidence that for the vast majority of people, taking multivitamins won’t help you,” says Dr. Cohen, an expert in dietary supplement research and regulation.

Who might need a multivitamin or individual supplements?

There are, however, a few exceptions. Very restrictive diets and gastrointestinal disorders, or certain weight loss surgeries that result in poor nutrient absorption, are examples of reasons a multivitamin or individual vitamins might be recommended. A daily vitamin D supplement may be needed when a person has insufficient sun exposure. Your doctor may recommend an iron supplement if you have a low red blood cell count (anemia).

Why is it hard to break the habit of a daily multivitamin?

Polls suggest people take vitamins to stay healthy, feel more energized or have peace of mind, according to an editorial that accompanied the USPSTF review. These beliefs stem from a powerful narrative about healthy, natural vitamins that dates back nearly a century.

“This narrative appeals to many groups in our population, including progressive vegetarians and also conservatives who distrust science and think doctors are doing no good,” says Dr. Cohen.

Unproven Marketing Claims for Dietary Supplements

Vitamins are very inexpensive to manufacture, so companies can invest a lot of money in advertising, says Dr. Cohen. But because the FDA regulates dietary supplements as foods and not as prescription or over-the-counter drugs, the agency only monitors claims about treating disease.

For example, supplement manufacturers cannot say that their product “reduces the risk of heart disease.” But their labels are allowed to include phrases such as “promotes a healthy heart” or “supports immunity”, as well as vague promises about improving fatigue and low motivation.

“Supplement companies are allowed to market their products as if they have benefits when no benefits actually exist. It’s written into law,” says Dr. Cohen. It is wise to note the legally required disclaimer on each product: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease .”

But even the strong language of this disclaimer — “not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent” — doesn’t seem to affect how people view the marketing claims.

Although multivitamins are not helpful, at least they are not harmful. But the money people spend on it could be better spent buying healthy foods, Dr. Cohen says.

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