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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Multivitamins and Health: Reacting to Headlines

By Michael McBurney

In journalism, writers are not responsible for headlines. Headlines are created by others to attract readers. This may explain why the headline ‘Time to kick the multivitamin habit, studies suggest’ doesn’t reflect the last statement written by Sarah Mahoney.  After interviewing more than 10 nutritionists, doctors, and supplement experts and examining data from USDA, FDA and others,Prevention still recommended calcium, vitamin D and omega-3 supplements for adults. responded to the article via twitter (@DSMNutrition) with this tweet “Before throwing away multivitamins… read this @nutritionorg @katrinaldunn”. The post elicited a response: “This is a difficult one. The problem is that there is so much “evidence” for and against vitamins that it is difficult to take a call on which way to go. However, eating a healthy diet, and leading a healthy lifestyle is always the best way to be healthy.” Agreed.  However, many people are not eating a healthy diet.

The purpose of today’s blog isn’t to defend dietary supplement use. It is a call for less judging of others. We don’t form opinions about people based on the way they get to work – car, bicycle, foot, or public transportation – or the routes they traverse. We accept that every means of transportation has risks and benefits. In the end, people are evaluated on whether they arrive on time, prepared to work.

Let’s do the same in nutrition. Let’s focus on whether people are ready and nourished to perform – learn, work, play. Adequate nutrition is essential to be strong today and healthy going forward. Inadequate nutrition undermines our capacities. Overnutrition may harm our bodies.

Dietary surveys show that vitamin intakes are below recommendations in many countries. The 2012 Second National Report on Biochemical Indicators of Diet and Nutrition in the US Population reports that vitamin and mineral deficiencies are prevalent in the US. This is despite fortification and dietary supplement use. Nutrient deficiencies are too prevalent. Among Americans, 8.1% are vitamin D deficient. Almost 2/3 are vitamin D inadequate. Almost 10% of women 12-49y are iron deficient. Almost 6% of Americans have vitamin C levels below the clinical definition for scurvy.

When dietary nutrient inadequacies exist, Shakur and colleagues report that supplement use significantly reduces the prevalence of inadequacy.  Supplement users may or may not make more nutritious dietary choices. Data from dietary surveys is mixed. However, we do know that the percentage of people with micronutrient intakes above the tolerable upper level (UL) is very low for most nutrients.

While it may be satisfying to advise people to follow our dietary advice and to rail against dietary supplements, the evidence from national nutrition surveys is that most of us will be helped, not harmed, by using multivitamin upplements. -mm-


Troesch B, Hoeft B, McBurney MI, Eggersdorfer M, Weber P. Dietary surveys indicate vitamin intakes below recommendations are common in representative countries. 2012 Br J Nutrdoi:10.1017/S0007114512001808

Shakur YA, Tarasuk V, Corey P, O’Connor DL. A comparison of micronutrient inadequacy and risk of high micronutrient intakes among vitamin and mineral supplement users and nonusers in Canada. 2012 J Nutr doi:10.3945/jn.111.149450

Fulgoni III VL, Keast DR, Bailey RL, Dwyer J. Foods, fortificants and supplements: Where do Americans get their nutrients? 2011  J Nutr doi:10.3845/jn.111.142257