Q&A: Do I Really Need a Multivitamin?

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: General Health, Q&As
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

A recent Prevention magazine article about multivitamins said that taking them is a waste of money. How do you feel about this?

 

That's nonsense. If you eat the perfect diet; live a calm lifestyle; and avoid toxins such as pesticides, heavy metals, prescription drugs and radiation, then perhaps you wouldn't need to take additional vitamins, minerals, and other supplements. But we live in the modern world, and a strong foundation program that includes a multi is a necessity these days.

Where the Article Went Wrong

The Prevention magazine article described results from the Women's Health Initiative, a long-term study that included more than 160,000 women. Those who took a multi regularly had the same rates of heart disease and several cancers as those who didn't take a multi. Participants were grouped according to their regular use of multivitamins:

  • Not taking a multi
  • Taking a multivitamin
  • Taking a multivitamin/mineral
  • Taking a stress formula

So far, so good. The problem arises when you look at what was included in each category. A "multivitamin" formula included up to 10 vitamins, at 100 percent of the RDA. A "multivitamin/mineral" formula included 10 to 20 vitamins and minerals, but could contain them at levels less than the RDA. A stress formula generally included B vitamins at levels up to 200 percent of the RDA.

You'd think that with so many participants, you'd get the right answer. But after looking at the way the data was collected, I could have told you the result without waiting for the analysis.

The RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance, according to the USDA) is pitifully low for nearly every vitamin and mineral. The recommended amounts will keep you from getting a deficiency disease, but they aren't enough to keep you healthy overall. Here are some of the many examples.

  • Vitamin C: The RDA of 60 mg will keep you from getting scurvy, but if that's all you get every day you'll suffer from colds and flu more often than other folks, and you're more likely to develop cataracts. Your joints, skin and other connective tissue will suffer, too.
  • Vitamin D: Even conventional docs are beginning to realize the value of getting vitamin D at levels far above the RDA of 400 IU. Your bones, brain, and immune system thrive on an intake of 2,000 to 5,000 IU daily.
  • B vitamins: The RDAs will keep you from getting pellagra, beri-beri, or pernicious anemia. But higher amounts will protect your brain from shrinkage, and protect your heart.

The Bottom Line

With these women getting barely RDA levels of vitamins and minerals, it's no surprise that there was no benefit. Data was collected on the exact contents of each patient's vitamin formula. It would be interesting to see the results for those women who took a high-quality product, instead of some useless once-daily tablet. The bottom line is that I will continue to take a multivitamin every day, and I suggest that you do, too.

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