Are Multivitamins Useful?

Does a multivitamin a day really keep the doctor away? Before you buy those supplements, read Dr. Art Hister's advice on how to skip the pills without compromising your health

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Good nutrition and exercise can help reduce your supplement intake

Millions of people take a multivitamin a day to keep the doctor away, but will it really do any good?

Millions of people take multivitamins every day to ward off health ills. It’s a strategy I’ve never favoured because I’ve never been convinced that the average person needs a daily multivitamin (except for people with specific digestive disturbances, the elderly, many of whom have poor diets on top of poor absorption abilities, and those with specific chronic health conditions).

The reason I don’t believe most of us need a daily multivitamin is simple: It’s easy to get enough vitamins even from a typical unhealthy Canadian diet, so taking a multivitamin every day does nothing for the majority except assure that we pee out more expensive urine.

Coincidentally, two recent reports examined this health issue (in men who were part of the Physicians’ Health Study, but the results probably apply to women, too). The first report found that daily intake of multivitamins led to an eight per cent reduced risk of some cancers; the second report found no benefit whatsoever on the risk of suffering cardiovascular events (i.e., heart attacks and strokes).

The Drawback of Multivitamins

Some might argue, “Hey Art, there’s really nothing to lose from taking a daily multivitamin ’cause even if it does nothing for my heart, it at least reduces the risk of cancer.” An argument I’d counter with these three key considerations:

  1. It’s still not certain that multivitamins reduce cancer risk at all since many experts felt the results in that study (a tiny eight per cent, and only for some cancers) may have just been due to chance.
  2. There’s the cost of taking something for life that may have no benefit and might produce side effects (rashes were more common in the vitamin-takers in these studies).
  3. Some will surely feel that they don’t have to be conscientious about far more important chronic-illness prevention strategies (like exercising and eating properly), if they are taking pills to prevent something: “Hey dear, I think I’ll skip the lovely kale and chard and tuna casserole you made because I took my multivitamin today.”

Dude, you should still eat that casserole, not only because getting your vitamins from food is way better for you than getting them from pills, but it will also help keep your marriage intact.

Dr. Art Hister is a medical writer and health analyst for Global TV.

Originally published in TVW. For daily programming updates and on-screen Entertainment news, subscribe to the free TVW e-newsletters, or purchase a subscription to the weekly magazine.