- Dr. Brittany Long
The Multivitamin Debate
Updated: Apr 10, 2020
All hail the multivitamin
A large majority of individuals take a daily multivitamin - in fact, the American Osteopathic Association found through a recent survey that 86% of the adult US population is popping a multivitamin daily. They’re relatively cheap, accessible, and simple to take and seem to be chock-full of goodness.
The knowledge of which vitamins you may actually need to focus on however is not a requirement when choosing a multivitamin because the supplement contains the entire vitamin and mineral alphabet. So the question begs to be asked, is there a better way to get all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients we need? Ideally, if we’re getting high quality and quantity sleep, exercising regularly, actively managing our stress, and eating a nutritionally balanced diet, a multivitamin may not be necessary. Multivitamins can definitely provide some with peace of mind, especially if their “foundations” of health aren’t exactly rock solid.
In the recent survey completed by the American Osteopathic Association they also found that why someone is taking a multivitamin and who recommended it is incredibly variable:
51% are doing so at the recommendation of a physician.
38 % are self-prescribed.
22% were recommended by someone they know such as a family member or social media.
How important is it to take a multivitamin and do they actually doing any good??
Ideally, practicing the “foundations” of health should set you up for success and negate the necessity of a multivitamin. Research has shown time and time again that eating a whole foods diet can help to prevent cancer and cardiovascular diseases and interestingly enough no current studies show that taking a daily multivitamin has the same effect as concentrating on “foundations” of health. There are some preliminary studies to suggest that certain vitamin combinations when taken together, may prevent cancer, but the same has not been shown by taking a multivitamin (and actually a few studies showed increased rates of certain rates of cancer with taking a daily multivitamin).
If we are eating a balanced, varied, and whole foods diet, we should be getting all the vitamins, minerals, amino acids and other nutrients that our bodies need to function and thrive. Also, though nutrients in food are important, I cannot discredit the importance of the fiber, fats, and protein present in whole foods! If you believe you may be deficient in a type of vitamin, it is important to consult your healthcare provider to do the proper testing and then create a plan that works for you as it might not just be a lack of nutrient consumption but could also be due to impaired gut function that you are unable to absorb the micro and macronutrients of your food.
But I can't/don't want to stop my multivitamin!
If you swear by your multivitamin (or are nervous to discontinue), here are four easy ways to ensure the product you are using is safe:
1. Look for the “NSF” label to ensure that what the company claims is contained in the supplement is true. Supplement companies are often poorly regulated and ensuring the integrity of the product is important to be mindful of.
2. Always buy directly from the seller as opposed to a generic third party. Third-party sellers sometimes store their supplements improperly (such as in an inappropriate temperature) which can cause degradation of the product.
3. Look at the RDA (recommended dietary allowance) to see if each of the ingredients is at least hitting, if not exceeding the RDA.
4. When in doubt or nervous about discontinuing – speak with a knowledgeable health care provider!
If you are interested in how to best practice disease prevention and assess your individual nutritional and health needs scheduling a visit with a licensed Naturopathic Physician could be your first step in the right direction! Naturopathic Physicians often look not only at the symptoms you might be experiencing but the root cause of your health concerns through a broader, holistic lens.
Poll finds 86% of Americans take vitamins or supplements yet only 21% have a confirmed nutritional deficiency - American Osteopathic Association. https://osteopathic.org/2019/01/16/poll-finds-86-of-americans-take-vitamins-or-supplements-yet-only-21-have-a-confirmed-nutritional-deficiency/. Accessed January 27, 2020.
New York Attorney General Targets Supplements at Major Retailers - The New York Times. https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/03/new-york-attorney-general-targets-supplements-at-major-retailers/. Accessed January 27, 2020.
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Sesso HD, Christen WG, Bubes V, et al. Multivitamins in the prevention of cardiovascular disease in men: The physicians’ health study II randomized controlled trial. JAMA - Journal of the American Medical Association. 2012;308(17):1751-1760. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.14805
*DISCLAIMER: This document is not intended to treat or diagnose disease. Before implementing any new treatment protocols be sure to consult with a licensed physician. The author has nothing to disclose in regards to supplements or products mentioned within this document and the author does not receive any monetary or other incentives to mention the recommended supplements or products.