Do me a favor and open your medicine cabinet. Count how many vitamin supplements or multivitamins you have. I’ll bet it’s at least two bottles. How many do you have?
The vitamin supplement industry is big business nowadays with nearly half of American adults taking some form of multivitamin or supplement daily, including 70% of those age 65 or older. But is it that easy? Can a single pill adequately fill our recommended dietary needs? Is it an adequate replacement for seniors? The answer to all these questions is a little more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no” and does depend on a few factors.
Research has found that taking daily multivitamins made no significant reduction in risk for heart disease, cancer, or mental decline. It was also found that vitamin E and beta-carotene supplements in particular, can even be harmful in high doses. The exception is folic acid supplements for women looking to have children as folic (a B vitamin) helps the body make healthy new cells and prevents birth defects when taken before or during early pregnancy.
Although diseases due to vitamin deficiency exist, they are not common in the United States where a large variety of fortified foods are available. As it turns out, for those who eat a healthy diet, a multivitamin holds very little benefit. Nearly 90% of the U.S. population is generally found to be deficient in only two vitamins: D and E. Talk to your doctor about whether you have a deficiency in any vitamin or mineral and may need supplemental help.
Although the majority of us may not need a daily multivitamin, there are certain groups that can benefit. They are:
- The elderly – Those age 80 or higher can have difficulties eating healthy for reasons such as difficulty chewing, medications and depression. The elderly also have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 in particular and the National Academy of Medicine does recommend a vitamin B12 supplement for those over 50 years of age.
- Expecting mothers – As mentioned earlier, folic acid supplements are highly recommended for women who are pregnant or looking to become pregnant in the near future. Other important nutrients during pregnancy include vitamin D, iron and calcium. These are usually included in a prenatal multivitamin.
- Those with underlying conditions – Diseases such as celiac, ulcerative colitis, cystic fibrosis and alcoholism can cause nutrient deficiencies. Some procedures such as a gastric bypass or removal of digestive organs will cause deficiencies that can be helped by supplements and multivitamins.
- Those taking certain medications – Diuretics can deplete the body’s stores of magnesium, calcium and potassium while proton pump inhibitors can prevent absorption of B12. Ask your doctor whether or not you may need to take a nutrient supplement when taking any prescribed medications.
So, should you continue taking your daily multivitamin? It depends on your diet and any underlying conditions you may have. If you do not fall into the four groups listed earlier and eat a healthy, well-rounded diet, then skip it. Your best bet is to visit your doctor and find out if you are indeed deficient in any nutrient, and supplement according to your doctor’s recommendations.