Science says: Say no to multivitamins

Multivitamins are available in practically every store — whether you are in a supermarket, gas station or browsing Amazon. Multivitamins are overwhelmingly present in our stores and on social media. They are often praised for improving one’s health or preventing chronic disease. 

It is no shock that at least half of all Americans regularly take multivitamins or other supplements and that nearly 80% of Americans believe the supplement industry is trustworthy.

While multivitamins have garnered tremendous hype and a dedicated user base, it’s important to ask if they truly live up to the grandiose image they present. Despite the supplement industry being valued at around $353 billion, research suggests that there is either no, or inconsistent evidence that supplements reduce the risk of chronic diseases or death.

Mandile Mpofu | Graphic Artist

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the top two leading causes of death and disability in America are cancer and heart disease. In 2022, the United States Preventive Services Task Force stated that there is insufficient evidence that multivitamins prevent either. 

A group of researchers from the Johns Hopkins Medical school cite multiple large-scale studies that show no reduction in heart disease risk, heart attack risk or risk of cancer. These researchers concluded that multivitamins do not reduce the risk of cognitive decline — a category of conditions that two-thirds of Americans experience to some degree by age 70. These conclusions have been echoed in numerous studies.

The two most common reasons adults take multivitamins are to improve or maintain their health. This is a misguided — and brutally expensive — venture. Despite their appeal, multivitamins fail to demonstrate widespread benefits for combatting deadly chronic diseases or improving longevity. Their use may be harmful.

While generally safe, studies have shown that various vitamins and minerals contained in multivitamins can increase the risk for certain diseases. According to Dr. Leslie Cho, calcium supplementation may increase the risk of heart attacks. While the evidence shows that calcium from whole food sources is preventative against heart disease, supplemented calcium may be more likely to be deposited in the arteries.

A 2022 study that examined data from nearly 500,000 people found that individuals who consumed one or more multivitamins a day had a higher risk of some cancers. This is an association study and doesn’t prove any causative effect, but it supports the notion that multivitamins don’t prevent cancer.

For individuals on medication, multivitamins may interact with prescription drugs. This is especially true for individuals on blood thinners, such as vitamin K, which is common in multivitamin supplements. Vitamin K encourages coagulation and may reduce the effectiveness of your medication. It is essential to openly communicate with your doctor about any supplemental vitamins, minerals or herbs you may be taking.

Multivitamins likely do not improve health and come with risks. The benefits people seek from vitamins can be obtained from two strongly evidence-backed sources: exercise and diet. Studies have shown that exercise reduces the risk of heart disease, types of cancer, risk of early death and chronically debilitating diseases. Individuals who eat a healthy whole-foods, plant-based diet will be benefitted.

Instead of heading to the supplement aisle, eat healthily and find an exercise you enjoy. Your body (and wallet) will thank you.

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