For millions of Americans, a standard multivitamin is a key part of their morning routine. The Council for Responsible Nutrition reports that 76 percent of Americans take vitamins and supplements of various kinds every day, with multivitamins being by far the most popular variety, taken by 58 percent of respondents. However, recent reports suggest that this may be a misguided endeavor. In fact, according to the experts at Healthline, "Multivitamins aren't right for everyone and may even harm some individuals." That's why doctors say there's one key step you should be taking before adding a multivitamin to your daily routine. Read on to find out what it is and for more on vitamins to be wary of, check out This Is the One Vitamin You Should Never Take, Doctors Say.
You should try to change your diet and exercise routine before taking a multivitamin.
"So many of my patients tell me they know their diet is not great but that I should not worry because 'at least' they take a multivitamin," registered dietitian Anna Taylor told the Cleveland Clinic. "But multivitamins aren't a surefire way to get what you need."
As Taylor points out, far more benefits come from consuming vitamins in the form of whole foods, as the vitamins, minerals, immunity boosters, antioxidants, anti-cancer agents, and anti-inflammatories you find occurring naturally are superior to their synthetic counterparts.
"Taking a multivitamin is no substitute for healthy lifestyle choices, such as exercising and eating a balanced diet," internist Raul Seballos, MD, told the Cleveland Clinic. "Ask yourself, 'Am I doing everything possible to optimize my overall health before taking a multivitamin and/or supplement?'"
Hrefna Palsdottir, MS, wrote similar advice in an article for Healthline. "It's best if you don't take a multivitamin to compensate for a poor diet," she says. "Eating a balanced diet of fresh, whole foods is much more likely to ensure good health over the long term."
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Multivitamins have not been proven to lower your risk of heart attack, cancer, or cognitive decline.
Two large studies (The Physicians Health Study II and The Iowa Women's Health study) tracked the use of multivitamins in more than 53,000 adults aged 50 and over. The studies concluded that multivitamins won't prevent heart attacks or strokes, don't lower risks for common cancers, and don't seem to provide any cognitive benefits.
Additionally, a 2020 study published in the journal BMJ Open compared the self-reported and clinically measurable health of more than 21,000 multivitamin users and nonusers in the U.S. While those who took multivitamins reported feeling healthier, the study didn't back that up.
"Multivitamin users self-reported better overall health despite no apparent differences in clinically measurable health outcomes," the study authors concluded. "These results suggest that widespread use of multivitamins in adults may be a result of individuals' positive expectation that multivitamin use leads to better health outcomes, or a self-selection bias in which multivitamin users intrinsically harbor more positive views regarding their health."
And to see if you're lacking one pivotal vitamin, here are 20 Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency, According to Medical Experts.
Beware of the harm that multivitamins can do.
As Palsdottir wrote for Healthline, dosage is key when it comes to taking a multivitamin. She cautions people to check ingredients to make sure that they aren't exceeding the recommended daily dosages for different vitamins.
"Although high doses of some vitamins and minerals are acceptable for some people, high amounts can be harmful," she explained.
And for another tablet that poses a risk, check out This Supplement Can Cause Cardiac Arrest If You Take Too Much, Doctors Say.
It's best to take vitamins for a particular deficiency.
Palsdottir wrote that vitamins can be useful for those with a specific deficiency—for example, vegetarians who are lacking in vitamin B12, or older adults who require more calcium and vitamin D. But most people are better off focusing on creating a regular, health-first lifestyle.
"If you have a nutrient deficiency, it's best to supplement with that specific nutrient," Palsdottir explained. "Multivitamins pack many nutrients, most of which you may not need. It may be best to speak with your healthcare provider to decide your best course of action."
And to see if you could be lacking in other vitamins and minerals, here are 20 Surprising Signs You Have a Vitamin Deficiency.