When we walk into health food stores there are rows and rows of different types of multivitamins available from candy-like gummies to dried and pulverized “real-food supplements.” Multivitamin pills are the most commonly used supplements in the United States. Yet, scientists are still struggling to answer if they make us healthier.
What Studies Have Shown
A daily multivitamin in theory will help to give levels of vitamins and minerals that you may not be getting in your diet. However, much of the research is inconclusive. A study reviewed the results of multivitamin/mineral supplements in relation to a few diseases and found no overall benefit taking them and saw that it did not outweigh the risks of using supplements.
A few years ago, a panel for the National Institutes of Health concluded that the evidence concerning the effectiveness and safety of multivitamins was limited and inconclusive.
A 2009 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine analyzed data from the landmark Women’s Health Initiative and found that multivitamin did not reduce the risk of cancer or cardiovascular disease.
A John Hopkins article discussed the editorial in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine titled, “Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.” In this editorial Johns Hopkins researchers reviewed evidence on supplements from three recent studies:
An analysis of research with 450,000 people, found multivitamins did not reduce the risk for heart disease or cancer. A study that tracked the mental functioning and multivitamin use of 5,947 men for 12 years found that multivitamins did not reduce the risk for mental disorders like memory loss or slowed-down thinking. Another study of 1,708 heart attack survivors who took a high-dose multivitamin or placebo for up to 55 months had the same rate of later heart surgeries, deaths, or heart attacks.
People tend to get sufficient vitamins and minerals from their diet alone. While multivitamins can help individuals with insufficient intake, multivitamins/minerals can also contribute to excessive amounts of nutrients above the daily-recommended amount.
There is some research that shows that in specific populations, supplements can pose some risks. This is just to inform readers that over-use of vitamins can impact people negatively. Multivitamins are generally assumed to be safe, but may contain 10 or more times the recommend daily intake.
A study in 1994 was the first o publish findings that vitamin supplementation could increase cancer risks in some of the population (in this case male smokers).
A different study of calcium discusses the benefits and risks of calcium supplements. In this study they could it could cause gastrointestinal problems and an increased risk of myocardial infraction.
One reason there is inconclusive data about the health benefits of multivitamins and minerals is that studies use different products, which makes them hard to compare and difficult to find patterns. There are a wide variety of lower and higher quality multivitamins that make it difficult for researchers to study a specific combination of vitamins and minerals on health.
Those Who Could Potentially Benefit
Though it seems the general population doesn’t benefit from vitamin supplementation, there are some individuals who could benefit:
• Pregnant women or women wanting to be pregnant.
• Individuals unable to take sufficient nutrition or with poor access to a variety of healthy foods, such as people living in food desert. Food desert are usually urban areas where access to fresh food is nonexistent, minimal, and/or too expensive.
• Breastfed infants.
• Some individuals over 60.
• Individuals with age-related macular degeneration.
• Those with vitamin or mineral deficiency, as seen from blood tests.
A physician should access the need for multivitamins and minerals. Supplements should be implemented only from the recommendation of your healthcare provider.
The Ayurvedic Perspective
The best way to have proper dosages of vitamins and minerals is through the food you eat. Focus on eating seasonally and having variety in your diet! It’s important to eat a nutrient-rich diet. Food sources that are rich in vitamins and minerals include:
• Vegetables: Eat the rainbow of colors on each plate.
• Leafy greens: both raw and cooked are amazing sources of vitamins.
• Fruits: Eat the skins as well as they often contain minerals and nutrients.
• Nuts and seeds: Variety is key!
• Whole grains.
• Legumes (including lentils, beans, and peas).
In Ayurveda, supplements, even herbs, should be used only while supporting or fixing imbalances. They should usually not be taken for longer than three months as the body becomes dependent on them.
Overall, we suggest to do your research if you are taking different supplements or multivitamins/minerals and start prioritizing a diverse and nutrient dense diet!