Are you one of the three Americans who take a multivitamin every morning, probably with a sip of water? The truth about this popular habit can be hard to swallow.
“Most people would be better off just drinking a glass of water and skipping the vitamin,” says Dr. Peter Cohen, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an internist at the Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance. In addition to saving money, you’ll have the satisfaction of not falling victim to misleading marketing schemes.
That’s because for the average American adult, a daily multivitamin provides no meaningful health benefit, as recently noted by the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). Their review, which analyzed 84 studies involving nearly 700,000 people, found little or no evidence that taking vitamin and mineral supplements helps prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease that can lead to heart attacks. and can cause paralysis, nor do they help 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?
However, there are some exceptions. Highly restrictive diets and gastrointestinal conditions, or certain weight loss surgeries that cause poor absorption of nutrients, are examples of reasons why a multivitamin or individual vitamins may be recommended. A daily vitamin D supplement may be necessary when a person gets insufficient sun exposure. If you have a low red blood cell count (anemia), your doctor may prescribe an iron supplement.
Why is It Hard to Give Up the Habit of a Daily Multivitamin?
According to an editorial accompanying the USPSTF review, surveys suggest that people take vitamins to stay healthy, feel more energetic, or achieve peace of mind. These beliefs stem from a powerful narrative about vitamins being healthy and natural that dates back nearly a century.
“This narrative appeals to many segments of our population, including those who are progressive vegetarians and conservatives who are skeptical of science and believe that doctors are the only ones who care,” says Dr. Cohen. no gain.”
Unproven Marketing Claims for Dietary Supplements
Dr. Cohen says vitamins are very cheap to make, so companies can invest a lot of money in advertising. But because the FDA regulates dietary supplements as food and not as prescription or over-the-counter drugs, the agency only oversees claims about treating disease.
For example, supplement makers cannot say that their product “reduces the risk of heart disease.” But their labels are allowed to include phrases like “promotes a healthy heart” or “supports immunity,” along with vague promises about improving fatigue and low motivation.
“Supplement manufacturers are allowed to market their products as if they have benefits when no benefits actually exist. It’s covered by 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 in that disclaimer — “not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent” — doesn’t seem to affect how people perceive marketing claims.
While multivitamins aren’t helpful, at least they aren’t harmful. But the money people spend on them could be better spent buying healthier foods, says Dr. Cohen.