ASK THE DOC: How helpful are multivitamins?

QUESTION: How helpful are multivitamins?

ANSWER: Growing up in rural West Virginia, I was taught that everyone should take a multivitamin for adequate health. In fact, for a period in the ‘70s, there were recommendations in the media to take large doses of many water-soluble vitamins to prevent disease. It seemed that there was a veritable explosion of nutritional supplements all assuring that if you took them then you would live well and long.

However, as more research became available it was realized that vitamin supplementation may not be all it claimed to be. In fact, I vividly recall two statements from articles on vitamin supplementation.  

1. “Vitamin supplements are designed to separate buyers from their money.”

2. “Multivitamins produce only expensive urine.”

I don’t remember who wrote those articles, but they seemed to fly in the face of what we were being taught.

Our current understanding of nutrition suggests that if we eat a healthy and varied diet that is rich in fresh foods, such as suggested by the Mediterranean Diet or the new 2023 Food Pyramid then multivitamin supplements are unnecessary. It also seems that vitamins obtained from fresh foods are more readily used than supplements.

That being said, today in the USA, many of our population don’t eat a healthy diet. Many consume mostly fast food or highly processed foods with lots of additives. In these foods much of the nutritional value has been stripped away. In these cases, multivitamin supplementation seems reasonable to help alleviate nutritional deficits.

A healthy diet high in fresh foods is best for your nutritional health.

This question from a reader was answered by Mark Waddell, DO. He practices at Robert C. Byrd Clinic in Lewisburg.


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