Use of multivitamin supplements in the United States has never been higher, but unless someone has a severe nutritional deficiency there’s a good chance those supplements aren’t doing any good. Not only are they ineffective, but may also bring unintended harmful side effects. The editorial comes from Edgar Miller, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, along with a panel of other physicians and was published in Annals of Internal Medicine this week.
Some proponents of multivitamins and supplements claim that the modern diet is leaving most people nutritionally deficient, but there’s no evidence to support this. After analyzing 27 long term clinical studies which utilized a combined 450,000 adults, it was determined that very few had severe deficiencies and would benefit from supplements. Most of the people that were studied were able to get all of their nutritional needs straight from their regular diet.
While it is often touted that multivitamin use can cure diseases and curb cancer rates, there is virtually no evidence to support this. Though different clinical trials (some lasting over 10 years) have explored multivitamin and supplement use as it relates to heart disease, cognition, lung disease, memory, cancer, and stroke, there hasn’t been any evidence that the supplements are more effective than a placebo. The physicians do state that there may be a placebo effect amongst those who regularly use multivitamins, though some studies even showed negative side effects from these supplements, including higher instances of cancer and death.
Some advocates of supplements claim that since the ingredients are all natural, there is no way for anyone to make money on them. This is categorically untrue, as vitamin and supplement companies sold $30 billion of product in 2011, in the United States alone. For a little perspective, this was over $11 billion more than NASA’s budget for the same fiscal year. Additionally, it was recently discovered that a large number of supplements aren’t even what they claim to be. Many herbal supplements contain fillers such as wheat and rice, along with a host of other herbs not represented on the bottle. Some had the advertised ingredient in much lower quantities than would be expected, while some lacked it entirely. Because vitamins and supplements are not regulated by the FDA, there is no governing body to ensure that the product is effective or even what it claims to be.
Around half of the population buys multivitamins, and the evidence suggests that many of them do not need to. A well-balanced diet is perfectly capable of covering all of one’s nutritional needs. If you aren’t sure if you have a deficiency and have been taking multivitamins anyway, please consult a physician who can order lab work and determine exactly what, if any, gaps in nutrition you may have.