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 some reasons why it might still be a good idea for you to take a multivitamin.

If you already take multivitamins, or plan to start taking them, be sure to learn about FDA oversight of dietary supplements. If you find yourself surprised to learn that the FDA regulates dietary supplements then you might especially want to check out that article.

Can't I Get All The Nutrition I Need From Food?

There are countless articles on the web quoting dietitians, nutritionists, and physicians who are 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.

It's really not that hard to get what you need,

Christopher Ochner, Ph.D., research associate at the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke's and Roosevelt Hospitals

However, there is at least one article on the web that will show you exactly how to get all your nutrition from food and it is right here on this website. ↑ Click Above to Learn!

The multivitamin as insurance policy is an old wives' tale, and we need to debunk it,

Miriam Nelson, Ph.D., Director of the John Hancock Research Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Obesity at Tufts University

For the purposes of this article, the point is that you can do it- but it's actually not quite as easy as some oft-quoted multivitamin researchers might have you believe. 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.

In the absence of clear evidence about the impact of most vitamins and multivitamins on cardiovascular disease and cancer, health care professionals should counsel their patients to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that is rich in nutrients.

Dr. Wanda Nicholson, U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

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. The tracker I am going to use for the purposes of this article is on Spark People. I highly suggest you use one or another of these food trackers to find out for yourself. Just be sure to choose one that tracks micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and not just macronutrients (calories from protein, carbs, and fat).

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 the quick down and dirty 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 Harm Me

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. We will look at those studies in more detail in Part Two.

In the meantime, rest assured that unless you are exceeding the recommended dosage indicated on a multivitamin Supplement Facts label, you probably aren't going to harm yourself. Taking amounts over and above that should be monitored by a dietitian, nutritionist, or physician. If you choose to discuss dietary supplements with a physician, be sure to select a physician with specific training in dietary supplements.

Multivitamins are not necessary, however there stands a pretty good chance that you are not getting all your nutrition from food and taking a multivitamin is the simplest and least expensive way to make sure you are meeting your body's basic nutritional requirements. While counting on a multivitamin for outright disease prevention might be too much to ask of them, it makes a lot of sense to make sure you are getting at least as much nutrition daily as is recommended by the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences. They have some pretty good evidence to back up their recommendations.

Even if you decide not to take a multivitamin, the Institute of Medicine still recommends some kind of dietary supplementation of up to two-thirds of Americans, at any given time. Most notably, this includes vitamin D (preferably vitamin D-3) supplementation for those who don't get the minimum amount of natural sunlight. The IOM also recommends all women of childbearing age acquire an additional 400 μg of folate (I would personally recommend methylfolate) from dietary supplements or fortified foods. Finally, IOM recommends that all people older than 50 years of age acquire an additional B12 from fortified foods or supplements. Similarly, I would recommend the methylcobalamin form.