Despite being funded by Pfizer, a major drug company that produces the multivitamin Centrum, a recent review that examined multivitamins turned out to be remarkably supportive. This is despite research I covered recently that was against the use of multivitamins, or multis. The newest study in Nutritional Journal takes a turn in a different and refreshing direction.
People take multis for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s to be healthier and live longer, and sometimes it’s to perform better. In the study, the author reviewed the current literature regarding multi use for three purposes: filling nutritional gaps, preventing disease, and improving cognition.
The study points out that the best way to get your nutrition is to consume whole foods. However, getting all your nutrition via food might be harder than you think. In fact, even in countries like the United States, nutritional deficiencies are common. For example, potassium, fiber, calcium, and vitamin D are all common dietary deficiencies, even in the American diet.
As such, nutritional status may be improved by the use of a multi. The author points out that many multis are low in calcium and virtually absent in potassium, so those nutrients may still need to be obtained elsewhere. With a healthy diet plus vitamin use, these needs should be covered.
Another reason people take vitamins and minerals is to reduce their risk of disease. Several studies were reviewed here to find out if multis are effective at disease prevention.
The results of studies examining the prevention of cancer by using multis are mixed, but there is little evidence that a balanced multi increases the risk of cancer in the general population, either. It seems that, in general, multis don’t affect cancer much. When they do, it’s a slight positive benefit. High-dose individual vitamins or minerals can have negative effects in certain populations, so stick with a quality multi for cancer prevention.
As for cardiovascular diseases, the story is pretty much the same. There is minimal evidence showing any harm, and a good amount of evidence showing that multis do some good for disease prevention. Understand that human disease studies aren’t easy to perform, but so far it seems that multis provide a benefit, albeit a mild one.
There wasn’t much information regarding eye diseases, but there does seem to be a benefit. Only three studies examined multis and macular degeneration, and one found a benefit. Out of four total studies on cataracts, all four demonstrated the preventive power of multis.
Finally we have all-cause mortality. This means dying for any reason. Human death studies are some of the hardest to conduct. According to the research, there wasn’t much to report here. There doesn’t seem to be a health risk from taking multis, but it’s hard to say if there’s a benefit. No study has examined a group of lifetime multi users.
Sometimes people take vitamins to help their mental performance as well as the physical. According to this review, there has never been a report of negative impact on cognitive ability or mental decline. There are some studies showing a benefit to mental function, but it’s usually limited to some specific type of mental exercise.
So there you have it – multis are good. Notice that there are also no reports of magical effects of multis, and bear in mind that they are an adjunct to your nutrition. Multis will have a slightly positive effect, and only if you’re missing nutrition from your diet – which, as this study shows, you probably are.
1. Elizabeth Ward, “Addressing nutritional gaps with multivitamin and mineral supplements,” Nutrition Journal 2014, 13:72
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