Nutrition-wise blog

Multivitamins — Are they the best thing for you?

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. March 6, 2008

Do you take a multivitamin? Or a single vitamin, mineral, or combination supplement? If so, you are in the company of tens of millions of U.S. adults.

Why do you take them? Most people say it makes them feel healthier or they believe it will prevent chronic diseases, or colds and flu. But you may be surprised to know that what is in your bottle and on the label is not strictly regulated. And there is no system in place to collect reports of adverse affects.

Over the past few years there has been increasing evidence that multivitamins and single or combination type vitamin/mineral supplements may not provide the health benefit sought by you, the consumer. In some cases the opposite or no beneficial effects have been reported.

Alarming to think that vitamin or mineral supplements could actually cause more harm than good. An example of this is the use of beta carotene by smokers actually increased the incidence of lung cancer. This is echoed by a recent study out of the University of Washington that reports the use of multivitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E and folate did not reduce the risk of lung cancer.

It is not all bad news though; there are studies to support the use of folate (folic acid) prior to and during pregnancy in the prevention of neural tube defects in the developing fetus. And history has proven that vitamins and minerals play a critical role in our health — the reason we know about the benefits of vitamins and minerals in food is because of the major discoveries in disease prevention such as vitamin C and scurvy and thiamine, a B vitamin, and beri beri (a wasting type disease).

This may leave you wondering if those vitamin mineral supplements in your medicine cabinet are doing what they should or even worth your money.

Let's look at this way — do you eat a well balanced diet? If so, you may not need a multivitamin and if you take one as a "safety net" know that you may exceed what your body needs or can use.

Are you concerned about a chronic disease? If so, making changes in your diet and exercise habits, not smoking and following through with recommended screenings by your physician are more likely to benefit your overall health picture.

Consider your current state of health, talk to your doctor and/or dietitian, and weigh the possible benefits and risks of a multivitamin and mineral supplement for you.

To your health,

Katherine

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Mar. 06, 2008