Should You Ditch Your Multivitamin?
To supplement or not to supplement? That's been a hot topic for debate lately. Despite promises of better health, a sharper mind, and stronger bones, the benefits of multivitamins and supplements have been called into question by a number of recent studies, including one published last week finding that certain minerals and multivitamins can actually increase the risk of early death. That study was followed by another showing that people who take supplements usually don't need them; they already get enough vitamins and minerals from their diets. So, do the benefits of supplements justify the risks, and their cost?
The editors at MedPage Today, an online medical news service, and ABC's Health News service asked a number of doctors what they recommend based on all the bad vitamin news that's come out lately. And here are a few highlights from their article (which you can read in full here):
• Most healthy adults should think twice about taking a supplement or multivitamin. "I had already asked my patients to stop their vitamin supplements four to five years ago, with the exception of those with a deficiency of vitamin D…pregnant patients [who should get] folate and prenatal multivitamins, or those with cognitive impairment, when I would recommend a vitamin B complex," Albert Levy, MD, a primary-care physician in New York, told the news organizations.
• Multivitamins have never been supported by strong science. David Katz, MD, of Yale Prevention Research Center, said that doctors have long operated under the assumption that people don't eat as well as they should, therefore multivitamins and supplements can help make up for nutritional deficiencies while not causing any harm. But the recent studies show that there is some potential for harm. Most doctors aren't convinced that multivitamins will kill you, he says, but now they know that with supplements come certain risks.
• Some supplements work—namely omega-3s and vitamin D for men and women, and calcium for women. Katz said he recommends those three for most of his patients because they have the most scientific evidence supporting their use. Other people, such as pregnant women, should continue taking folic acid (aka folate), he added, and that there's an increasing amount of evidence supporting the use of vitamin B12 for older adults who want to stave off dementia.
• A healthy diet is its own reward. Doctors should ask patients about their diets, Katz told MedPage and ABC. So if your physician recommends a supplement, you wouldn't be out of line to ask for a blood test if you feel that you eat a healthy diet rich in whole foods and get enough nutrients from food already.