Are Multivitamins Dangerous?

I’ve done a TON of physicals this week, and when I see a patient for a well visit, we always talk about diet.  For most (if not all) humans, the best diet is one full of whole fresh unprocessed plant foods, the more colorful the better.  Limiting meats and other animal-based foods is wise if your goal is to decrease your risk of cancer and heart disease.

Even if you eat healthy, it’s hard to get all the nutrients you need from your food.  I always recommend a good quality multivitamin to my patients.  This week a few people have asked me, are multivitamins dangerous?

It’s common to see reports on the news that vitamin use increases the risk of cancer, heart disease, and other problems.  If you follow my blog (or talk to me for a few minutes) you know I believe strongly in good nutrition.  So when people are asking if multivitamins are dangerous, I want to reassure them.

Here on my blog I try not to lean on my own opinion too much.  So I went off to the research database, and found a great article published recently that reviewed recent research about the safety of multivitamin supplements.  You can read the article yourself at this link.

So are multivitamins dangerous?  Here are my 3 take-home points from this article:

  • Nutrition should come from food, but our diet is stupid, so taking a multivitamin is a smart harm-reduction method.

There is no multivitamin or supplement that can overcome a bad diet.  Too much processed food, food full of added sugar and fat, and food with artificial ingredients will damage your health.

With that being said, we live in the real world and there are times when we can’t eat a perfect diet all the time.  Even though we live in a country with fresh healthy food available, often it is grown and stored and transported in such a way that the nutrients degrade.  It’s been reported that our food is much less nutritious than it was 50 years ago.

In this day and age, a multivitamin can be sort of like the seatbelt in your car.  You should eat healthy (like you should drive safely) but your daily multivitamin can be a just-in-case safety measure for those crazy days when you just don’t get all the nutrients you need from your food.

  • Comprehensive multi-nutrient supplements (like a good quality multivitamin) are better and safer than single-nutrient supplement

Some research shows that single-nutrient supplements like calcium and vitamin E are associated with higher risk of some diseases.  I don’t recommend people take single-nutrient supplements.  You’re best off taking a comprehensive nutritional supplement program tailored to your specific needs.

For instance, a woman over 60 would need a good quality multivitamin that doesn’t contain iron.  A younger woman of childbearing age would need more iron, more iodine, and more folic acid in her multivitamin.  Someone with migraines or anxiety may need to add a B complex supplement and extra magnesium.  Someone concerned about heart health may want to add fish oil, coenzyme Q10 and extra magnesium.

People are different, and what works for someone else may not work as well for you.

  • There is no consistent evidence that taking a multivitamin increases the risk of cancer, heart disease or stroke.  There ARE suggestions that taking a multivitamin may reduce the risk of health problems in certain populations.  This is really exciting!

Multivitamins have been studied extensively to see if taking them is associated with lots of different medical problems. The research has been pretty neutral in general, with no association with higher OR lower risk of major medical problems.  This may be because multivitamin preparations vary so widely in quality and in what nutrients are contained in them.

A few consistent trends do seem to be present though.  Multivitamins are not associated with a higher risk of cancer.  Some studies have, in fact, shown a lower risk of cancer in people taking a multivitamin.  Researchers are doing more studies to see if they can show lower cancer risk consistently in those taking multivitamins.

Multivitamins also seem to not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, age-related eye disease, mental health and cognitive problems in the elderly, or overall mortality.

So what’s the overall point?  Take your multivitamin every day!  Even if you have a really healthy diet, a multivitamin will help fill in any gaps.  After all, these nutrients affect every cell in your body.  Every cell needs them, every day.

Need help choosing a multivitamin?  I recently wrote about how to choose a multivitamin, so click this link and read up!

You probably already know I use and recommend supplements from the Shaklee Corporation.  Want to see what products would be best for you?  Click this link and answer the questions to get your HealthPrint personalized nutrition assessment.

QUESTION: Do you take a multivitamin?  Do you feel it makes a difference in your health?

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