By Kelly Grigg

I learned a tonne from my nutrition professor in college, but one thing he repeatedly said seriously stood out. He impressed upon the lecture hall that if you eat a balanced diet, complete with plenty of fruits and veggies, you do NOT need to take a multivitamin. 

I also had a chiropractor ask me once, “If you’re deficient in vitamin D, why bother taking a multivitamin? You only need vitamin D.” 

At the time, the advice from these professionals went against everything I’d ever known about multivitamins. Since my childhood days of Flinstones vitamins (which seemed like a treat because they tasted like candy), I’d thought this supplement was a dietary necessity. 

In researching this article, I now understand the advice I was given years ago. Read on to find out if a multivitamin is right or necessary for YOU.

What Is A Multivitamin?

Multivitamins are manufactured dietary supplements containing assorted vitamins and minerals. They come in tablets, chewies, liquids, and other formats.

Supplements are a HUGE business. According to Harvard Medical School, “more than 90,000 products generate about $30 billion every year in the United States” alone. But many experts claim this money would be better spent on nutritious food.

Many of us believe multivitamins are akin to pharmaceuticals and trust they’ll act as such. However, “Because supplements are regulated as foods, not as drugs, the FDA doesn’t evaluate the quality of supplements or assess their effects on the body.”

This lack of regulation also means the percentage of each ingredient may differ from what’s on the label. The product could also include extraneous additions like herbs or fatty acids.

Lastly, “the nutrients in multivitamins may be derived from real foods or made synthetically, making it essential to purchase your vitamins from a reputable manufacturer.”

Why Do So Many People Take Multivitamins?

Let’s face it. We want to be healthy, but we can’t do everything perfectly all the time. Multivitamins are an easy and inexpensive way to ensure we get all of our nutrition.

If we lean on convenience foods a lot or just don’t love veggies, we can effortlessly pop a tablet and hit all bases. However, a healthy diet “provides fibre, healthy fats and micronutrients that aren’t always captured in supplements,” so vitamins don’t cover all your needs.

The Science Of Multivitamins

There is a shocking lack of proof that multivitamins do anything beneficial for the body. For example, there is mixed evidence on multivitamins’ effect on cancer, brain function, heart disease and eye health. Some studies do show a lower risk for the above, but many show no benefit at all. 

In addition, a multivitamin supplement can pose health risks, as increased intake of specific vitamins can be toxic. Some can even interact negatively with prescription meds, so it’s crucial to check with your doctor before taking any supplement.

So, Who Should Take Multivitamins?

If you’re pondering taking a multivitamin, the most important questions to ask are:

1) Is my diet lacking in certain areas, or is it well-rounded overall? 

2) Could I skip a multivitamin and take only the exact vitamins I need?

3) Am I older, or do I have a specific medical need?

Health professionals overwhelmingly agree that vitamins and minerals are better coming from your food than from a supplement. So, If your diet is typically healthy and includes “nutrient-packed foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products, ” it isn’t necessary to augment it. 

There is, however, evidence that vegans and vegetarians should take B12 supplements, as this nutrient is mainly found in animal-based foods. Still, plant-based folk can simply take vitamin B12 to fulfil this need and opt out of the multi-route. 

In addition, pregnant or breastfeeding women are urged to take folic acid before and during early pregnancy to help prevent foetal complications such as neural tube defects. But, this is also an isolated need.

People who’ve undergone weight loss surgery, have a disease that reduces nutrient absorption or those with alcoholism can benefit from a multivitamin. They could be short on various nutrients, so the multi-option might work best for them.

Older adults can start to lack B12, calcium and vitamin D, and decreased appetites can result in inadequate nutrition, so taking a multivitamin for this group can be beneficial.

There are definite cases where taking a multivitamin can be a health advantage. However, supplements will never take the place of good, old-fashioned food and might just be utterly unnecessary for you. 

So, next time you’re perusing the vitamin section at your local pharmacy, contemplating handing over your hard-earned cash to this billion-dollar industry, I suggest you hit the pause button. Profound medical implications could transpire, so consult with your physician before YOU decide if you’re down or out.