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Resources - August 26, 2019

Do Multivitamins Make You Healthier?

by Saba Barkneh

If you take a multivitamin, it’s probably because you want to do everything you can to protect your health. And you’re not alone. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimate that more than one-third of all Americans take multivitamins, spending more than $5.7 billion each year. Older adults make up a big part of these sales. A survey of almost 3,500 adults age 60 and older published Oct. 1, 2017, in The Journal of Nutrition found that 70% use a daily supplement (either a multivitamin or individual vitamin or mineral), 54% take one or two supplements, and 29% take four or more.

However, when you examine recent research and clinical studies, there is limited evidence that a daily cocktail of essential vitamins and minerals actually delivers what you expect.

Enough Is Enough & Too Much Could Be Dangerous

In an editorial in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine titled “Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements,” Johns Hopkins researchers reviewed a variety of clinical studies on the potential benefits of supplements. They concluded that multivitamins don’t reduce the risk for heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline (such as memory loss and slowed-down thinking) or early death.

Not only did they find that there are little to no benefits in taking multivitamins and supplements, but they also found that high doses of some vitamins and minerals may actually have negative side effects and increase the risk of some conditions. For instance, they state that vitamin E and beta-carotene supplements appear to be harmful, especially in high doses.

According to WebMD, “too much vitamin C or zinc could cause nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. Too much selenium could lead to hair loss, gastrointestinal upset, fatigue, and mild nerve damage.” High doses of vitamin A, which is typically caused by ingesting mega-multivitamins, cause chronic toxicity which can lead to liver damage and increased pressure on your brain, resulting in changes in vision, bone pain, and skin changes.

Basic Benefits

All the supplements and mineral news aren’t bad. Individual supplements may play an important role if your doctor deems it necessary. For instance, women or men suffering from osteoporosis will most likely be encouraged or required by their healthcare provider to take extra vitamin D and calcium to help with building or maintaining bone mass.

Folic acid is essential for women during pregnancy. And for those who suffer from a digestive condition like lactose intolerance, Crohn’s disease or celiac disease, supplements can be a lifesaver in helping them get nutrients their bodies won’t let them absorb through diet alone.

A Better Way

As a general rule, it is best to get your vitamins and minerals from food—not a pill. Eating a wide variety of foods can help you meet your nutrient needs and provide additional benefits foods have to offer, such as dietary fiber and antioxidants.

As a Registered Dietitian at Goodwin House Alexandria, I work with our chefs to ensure the meals we prepare are packed with nutritional power. Nature has provided us with the vitamins we need to remain active, healthy and vibrant!

For example:

  • Vitamin A is found in yellow and orange fruits (such as cantaloupe, mango, and papaya), orange root vegetables (including pumpkin, carrots and sweet potatoes) and green leafy vegetables (such as spinach and kale).
  • Vitamin B6 is found in baked potatoes, bananas, beef, fish, fortified cereals, whole grains, nuts, beans, pork, chicken and fish.
  • Vitamin B12 is abundant in milk and dairy foods, meat, fish (especially salmon), poultry and eggs.
  • Vitamin E is found in Nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, green leafy vegetables, and fortified cereals.
  • Folate or folic acid can be found in orange juice, spinach, romaine lettuce, broccoli, peanuts, avocado, enriched grain products, and fortified breakfast cereals.

Relying on nature’s bounty is the best way to ensure you are getting what your body needs. Discuss with your doctor any nutritional deficits you may have. And most importantly, tell your doctor if you are currently taking a multivitamin or supplements. He or she will be able to let you know about any possible side effects or adverse interactions with your current medications.


Saba Barkneh is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionists and has worked at Goodwin House Alexandria since 2015. Saba completed her studies in London, England, and received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Nutrition & Dietetics (with honors) from the University of London Kings College in 2001. She has been a Registered Dietitian since 2001 with the Health Professionals Council, U.K. and since 2006 with the Commission of Registration of the Academy of Nutrition Dietetic, USA. Outside of work, she is a mother of two and enjoys long-distance running and Church service.


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