Are you one of the many people who pops a multivitamin every day, hoping it will provide an extra layer of protection against disease or slow the aging process? While vitamins are essential for health, there are a few myths about daily multivitamins that have been circulating for too long. Let’s look at 7 of the most common misconceptions about these little pills you buy at the drugstore.
Myth #1: Taking a Multivitamin Will Keep You Healthy
Think a multivitamin will protect you from disease? Think again! Two large studies involving nearly 250,000 people found that those who took a daily multivitamin had the same risk of cancer and heart disease as those who didn’t. One study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine even showed that taking multivitamins was linked with a slightly increased risk of premature death. And, unfortunately, they don’t appear to protect against colds or flu either, although being deficient in some vitamins, like vitamin C or D, could place you at higher risk.
Myth #2: You Don’t Need to Eat a Healthy Diet if You Take a Multivitamin
While multivitamins help fill nutritional gaps, the best way to get your vitamins and minerals is by eating a healthy and balanced diet that contains whole foods rather than less nutritious junk food. However, if you have certain medical conditions that reduce the absorption of vitamins, restrict calories, or follow a vegan diet, a multivitamin may be beneficial to supply key nutrients that are low or missing in a vegan diet, such as vitamin B12, iron, and zinc.
Some health conditions and medications also increase the risk of nutritional deficiency, so you should talk to your doctor about whether you need a multivitamin if you are taking prescriptions for a health problem.
Myth #3: All Women Should Take a Multivitamin When Pregnant
While pregnant women need extra iron and folate, it’s best to get medical guidance before taking a multivitamin or supplement during pregnancy. For example, vitamin A is an essential nutrient required for the development of the baby’s eyes, heart, lungs, and bones. But, taking too much vitamin A during pregnancy can lead to birth defects, such as malformations of the skull, face, and brain.
That’s why you shouldn’t buy an over-the-counter vitamin supplement if you’re pregnant. Talk to your doctor about what you should take to safely supply you and your baby with the right balance of nutrients.
Myth #4: A Daily Multivitamin Will Boost Your Vitamin D Levels
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that many of us don’t get enough of. The best source of vitamin D is the sun, and it’s hard to get enough of this vitamin through diet alone. Most multivitamins contain 400 IU of vitamin D, which is not enough to boost already low vitamin D levels. However, it may help you avoid vitamin D deficiency if you’re not deficient.
The best approach is to ask your physician to check your vitamin D level and recommend the amount you need to keep it in a healthy range. Increasing your dietary intake of vitamin D-rich foods, such as fatty fish, mushrooms, and fortified dairy products, can help too.
Myth #5: One Size Fits All
Not all multivitamins are created equal. Be sure to read the label and choose a multivitamin tailored to your specific needs. For example, premenopausal women should choose a multivitamin that contains iron, while post-menopausal women and men may not need to.
Also, consider the ingredients and dosages. A multivitamin contains a variety of vitamins and minerals, but the dosages of each can vary greatly. For example, some multivitamins contain high doses of certain vitamins, such as vitamin C, while others may contain lower doses. Choose a multivitamin that contains the recommended daily allowances of the vitamins and minerals that you need. There’s no need to take mega doses.
Next, consider the form of the ingredients. Some multivitamins contain synthetic vitamins and minerals, while others use natural forms. Synthetic vitamins are chemically identical to the natural form, but some studies show that natural or whole-food vitamins are easier to absorb.
If you have medical conditions or allergies, be careful when choosing a multivitamin. Some multivitamins contain ingredients that may interact with certain medications or aggravate certain medical conditions. Also, if you have allergies to certain ingredients, such as gluten or soy, choose a multivitamin free of those ingredients.
Myth #6: You Can Take a Multivitamin at Any Time
Many people believe it doesn’t matter when they take their multivitamins as long as they take them every day. However, this is not entirely true. The timing of when you take your multivitamin can affect how well your body absorbs the nutrients.
Some components in a multivitamin, such as the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, are best absorbed with a meal that contains fat. These vitamins are stored in the liver and fat tissues, and you absorb them best when dissolved in fat. Therefore, if you take your multivitamin on an empty stomach or with a low-fat meal, you may not get the full benefits of these vitamins.
Additionally, some people experience stomach discomfort, especially if the multivitamin contains iron. You can best absorb iron with a source of vitamin C, such as a glass of orange juice. Iron can also cause stomach upset when taken on an empty stomach, so it’s best to take it with a meal.
Myth #7: The Best Vitamin Supplements Cost More
Many people believe the best multivitamins are the most expensive ones, but this is not necessarily true. ConsumerLab.com conducted a study that found that the price of a multivitamin does not always indicate its quality. In fact, even those sold by big-name brands may not always contain the exact amounts of vitamins and minerals they claim.
One way to determine the quality of a multivitamin is to look for the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) seal. This seal indicates the product has been tested and contains the ingredients listed on the label. Products with the USP seal have been verified to meet high standards for purity, potency, and quality.
Another way to ensure the quality of a multivitamin is to check the ingredients list and compare it to the recommended daily allowances (RDAs) for vitamins and minerals. The RDAs are the amounts of nutrients needed to maintain good health, and they are established by the National Academy of Sciences.
Multivitamins are not a silver bullet solution for good health. Although they can help fill in gaps for people with dietary deficiencies, relying on them as your only source of nutrition is not advisable. Eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly are still the best ways to support your overall health and well-being.
Speak with your doctor to determine if taking a multivitamin is right for you. And always consult a doctor before taking any supplement, especially if you are pregnant or have a medical condition.
- Nutrition Action Health Letter. September 2011. “Multiplex: What You Need to Know about Multivitamins”
- Arch Intern Med. 2011;171:1625-1633,1633-1634.
- Pregnancy and Lactation. Pregnancy and Lactation. Linus Pauling Institute. Published April 29, 2014. Accessed January 25, 2023. lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/life-stages/pregnancy-lactation
- “More evidence that routine multivitamin use should be avoided.” 19 Dec. 2013, sciencebasedmedicine.org/more-evidence-that-routine-multivitamin-use-should-be-avoided/.
- Mangione CM, Barry MJ, Nicholson WK, et al. Vitamin, Mineral, and Multivitamin Supplementation to Prevent Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer. JAMA. 2022;327(23):2326. doi:10.1001/jama.2022.8970.
- “Do multivitamins make you healthier? – Harvard Health.” 07 Apr. 2022, health.harvard.edu/mens-health/do-multivitamins-make-you-healthier.
- “Multivitamin/mineral Supplements – Health Professional Fact Sheet.” ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/MVMS-HealthProfessional/.
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