Multivitamins: Do you really need one?

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Julie Masci, Dietitian

 A multivitamin is one of the most common dietary supplements used by many people. It is believed that a daily vitamin can make up for any nutritional shortfalls in your diet. But, is your multivitamin really preventing disease or are you just wasting money taking it every day? At this time the research is still mixed on the benefits of a daily multivitamin and if we really need them.

Data analyzed from a large study called the Women’s Health Initiative, found that a daily vitamin did not reduce the risk of developing cancer or heart disease. One study actually linked vitamin use to an increase in the risk of breast cancer. But, other studies have shown contradictory results and demonstrated that daily vitamin use did reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Why so many conflicting results? Most of these studies are observational in nature, meaning the researchers just observe what happen to a group of people over a specific period of time and try to find connections between behaviors and diseases. This data is not based on experimental, clinical studies, which is considered the gold standard for research, making it difficult to make a definitive statement on this type of observational data.

Even though the research is inconclusive, there are certain groups of people that may benefit from a daily multivitamin. As we age, our ability to absorb nutrients decreases and our appetite sometimes also fluctuates, preventing us from getting the nutrients we need from our diets. Therefore, it is recommended that anyone over the age of 60 should probably take a multivitamin that incudes adequate amounts vitamin D and magnesium.

Women of childbearing age, who are trying to become pregnant, should also take a daily prenatal vitamin that contains at least 400 mcg of folate to reduce the risk of birth defects. Pregnant or lactating women should continue to take a prenatal vitamin to ensure proper nutrition for themselves and the baby. Lastly, if you have any type of restrictive diet, you are a strict vegetarian, or you are trying to lose weight, you should take a multivitamin to ensure you are getting sufficient nutrients.

Multivitamins are generally safe for most people, but it is important to be aware of the amount of each nutrient the vitamin is providing. Take a look at the RDIs, which recommend how much of each vitamin and mineral is needed based on your age and gender, to be sure your supplement matches up with your daily needs. Also, be sure to follow the dosage instructions on the label, as taking too much can be dangerous.

Tip 1: When shopping for a good multivitamin or other dietary supplement the label can seem confusing and overwhelming. To keep it simple, here are a few tips:

Tip 2: Always check the serving size. Make sure you are taking the correct dosage of any supplement so you can be sure you are getting all the nutrition you need. Follow the serving size on the label unless otherwise directed by your healthcare provider or doctor.

Tip 3: Store the vitamins properly. Unless stored properly and used before the expiration date, chemical substances will disintegrate over time. Keep your vitamins in a cool, dark place away from extreme temperatures, humidity, or air. Don’t keep vitamins next to the stove or in your car as they may lose their potency faster.

Tip 4: Make sure the amount provided of each vitamin or mineral does not exceed your daily need based on the RDIs.

Tip 5: Claims. Vitamin companies are only allowed to make certain types of claims on their labels, some of these claims are just marketing techniques. The best place to get information about a product is on the label, not on the front panel.

Tip 6: Check with your doctor. Remember that vitamins are not medications, in that they are not intended to treat, prevent, or cure any disease. It is always best to discuss any vitamins, minerals, or herbs you are taking with your doctor or other healthcare professional. A daily vitamin can be right for you, but if you are unsure, it is always best to check with a professional before spending your hard-earned money on vitamins or supplements.

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