Trust Your Gut

Do I Really Need A Multivitamin?

And Can They Harm Me?

No, you don't need to take a multivitamin. There are plenty of people who enjoy long, healthy lives without multivitamins, and it is both possible and preferable to get everything the body needs from food sources. Now that we have that out of the way, I would like to review all of the reasons why it is a very good idea to take a multivitamin, and provide some insight into the alleged risks of taking one.

Can't I Get Everything I Need From Food?

There are countless articles on the web by dieticians and nutritionists promoting the idea that the body can get everything it needs from food. And they are right. The only problem is that very few of those articles, if any, tell the reader exactly how to go about doing that.

You can do it- but it's actually not that easy. Unfortunately, it's not quite as simple as having a salad with lunch. The fact of the matter is that there are twenty-two (22) different vitamins and minerals that are all required for proper bodily function, and you can't get significant amounts of all of them from any single food source. You need to not only eat a variety of foods, but a very specific variety of foods in order to have at least a chance.

There are numerous free food trackers on the web that will analyze your diet and provide detailed feedback on your vitamin and mineral intake. I recommend that you sign up for one and see for yourself. The whole process should take about 15 minutes and I am willing to bet a one-hour consultation fee that your average nutritional intake doesn't meet the daily requirements, even if you are a healthy eater.

Now if you eat reasonably well, there is probably a good chance that you are getting most of the nutrients in adequate amounts, but unfortunately you need to get all of them for the body to function properly. In my experience, the three nutrients that people tend to fall short the most often are zinc, magnesium, and vitamin E. For a detailed explanation of how to meet those specific nutrient needs, see my article: Operation: Strategic Food Consumption. But here's a hint. If you are not eating at least one serving of dark leafy greens or beans, and at least one serving of nuts or seeds every single day, you have a pretty slim chance.

Low-calorie Diets Make It Tough

Two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and almost everybody has tried to lose weight by dieting at some point in their life. But with all of our efforts to cut back on the calories, nutrition often gets overlooked. If you are eating less than 2000 calories a day- even if it is all healthy food- there just isn't enough quantity of food there to meet your body's nutritional needs.

Exercise Increases Nutritional Needs

Exercise, especially intense prolonged exercise on a regular basis, actually increases the body's nutritional needs. Unfortunately, a lot of people believe that exercise makes up for poor nutrition when it is actually the opposite. An active body requires more nutrients to function properly than a sedentary one.

But I Heard That Multivitamins Can Cause Harm

There are a few studies in recent years that have received a lot of media attention that suggest that multivitamins could be harmful. However, a closer look reveals that the concerns are way over-hyped.

One study often cited is entitled the "Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial" or SELECT. SELECT looked at whether selenium, vitamin E, or both could prevent prostate cancer in otherwise healthy men. The study found that the group receiving vitamin E had more cases of prostate cancer than controls. However, the differences were not statistically significant. , the investigators apparently felt concerned enough to stop the trial.

Typically, findings that are not statistically significant are considered to be useless and are disregarded. In addition, the investigators used a synthetic form of vitamin E called dl-alpha-tocopheryl acetate despite the fact that the predominant natural form of vitamin E found in foods is gamma-tocopherol.

Two other studies often cited looked at folic acid. The first study concluded that further research is needed to investigate the possibility that folic acid supplementation might increase the risk of colon cancer. The second study concluded that folic acid was associated with increased cancer outcomes and all-cause mortality in patients with previous ischemic heart disease. How either of these conclusions could be generalized to a blanket recommendation against multivitamin use is highly curious, to say the least.

Conclusions

Multivitamins are not necessary, however there are many good reasons to take them and few good reasons not to. Providing the body with all of the essential vitamins and minerals using food alone is possible, but requires a high level of commitment. If you are going to take a multivitamin, it is preferable to get one that uses naturally-sourced nutrients and is manufactured according to the highest standards of quality available.

Here's to your health!