A Nurse's Take On Multivitamins: An Unnecessary Evil

NursingMarch 24, 2014

A recent study by the Annals of Internal Medicine found that taking daily multivitamins had no effect on cognition and cardiovascular events like stroke and the prevention of heart attack. This may come as a surprise to the American public — who spend billions of dollars each year on them.

No Satisfactory Substitute

Multivitamins have been touted for their ability to increase vitality, energy, boost the immune system and increase overall health. The truth is that no multivitamin can supplement or replace the content of a balanced diet loaded with vegetables, fruit, lean meats and healthy carbohydrates. The vitamins and minerals contained in food are absorbed better and used more effectively than when taken in pill form. Additionally, the body does not require megadoses of any nutrient, and when the body encounters, for instance, a dose of Vitamin C that is two to three times the amount recommended, it simply removes the excess through the urine, with no health benefits. In some situations, the body is unable to remove excess nutrients in time, and it can result in an overdose.

Also, with the abundance of fortified foods — and food in general, both in variety and quantity — a true vitamin deficiency is rare in our privileged society. True vitamin deficiencies result in conditions like rickets, scurvy and pellagra. A licensed medical provider can diagnose vitamin deficiencies through lab tests and can recommend specific supplements to correct them if needed.

Can Multivitamins be Harmful?

Some studies have shown that some supplements may actually be damaging to health. A classic case is the use of Vitamin E in smokers. Smokers who supplemented their diets with Vitamin E had higher rates of lung cancer.

Additionally, too much beta-carotene can result in "an increased risk of death from all causes."

These examples are extreme, but when combined with the fact that a multivitamin has not shown any demonstrable benefit, it is clear that taking them may be unnecessary.

Your Best Bet

Instead of using your money to buy the "best multivitamin possible", buy and prepare fresh produce and healthy proteins. There are excellent resources out there that allow patients to check and see if they're meeting the recommended daily amount of essential vitamins and minerals. It is also a good way to monitor fat and calorie intake.

Not all Supplements are Unnecessary

This is not to say that supplements have no value. For example, iron pills for anemic patients, folic acid for pregnant women, Vitamin D for heart health, and calcium and magnesium for osteoporosis are examples of supplements that can be necessary. However, be sure to consult a competent medical provider when using supplements and avoid exceeding maximum recommended daily allowances.

In conclusion, a multivitamin has not been shown to aid the health status of individuals in a society with our diet. Diet is the best way to get proper nutrition, and multivitamins are unnecessary expenses if we are meeting our needs through our food intake — possibly harming us if taken to excess.

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