Multivitamins are not miracles… but they are important.


Are you worried about headlines saying you stop taking your multivitamin? Are they “useless” and potentially harmful?

Worry not. As we all know, headlines can be misleading. In this case, they ignore the totality of the evidence from decades of nutrition research.

At the Linus Pauling Institute, we still believe in the necessity of multivitamin supplements.

Vitamins and minerals are needed by the body to maintain normal cell function, metabolism, and growth. If we don’t get enough of these essential nutrients, normal functioning of the body is impaired and health declines. Current evidence from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) shows that the large majority of the US population falls short of getting the recommended levels of many vitamins and minerals from their diet. For example, more than 90% of US adults do not meet the recommendations for vitamins D and E; 50-60% do not meet the recommendations for vitamin A, calcium, and magnesium; and more than 40% do not consume enough vitamin C.

To be clear, these recommended levels of vitamins and minerals are the minimum amounts that nutrition research has found necessary to maintain good health. But there is some good news: there is  support that people consuming a daily multivitamin containing the recommended amounts of most vitamins and minerals can fill these nutritional gaps safely, conveniently and at very low cost – less than a nickel a day.

Heart illlustration filled with vegetabls, logo of DOH Conference.

In addition to supporting normal body function, vitamins and minerals also may play a role in chronic disease prevention. For example, the largest and longest clinical trial of multivitamins conducted to date, the Physicians’ Health Study II (PHS II), found a significant reduction in total cancer incidence in male physicians 50 years and older, excluding prostate cancer. Although the declines were not large, if every adult in the US took an multivitamin it could possibly prevent up to 130,000 cases of cancer each year.

The PHS II also found a significant reduction in the incidence of cataracts. These findings of PHS II are consistent with those of several other clinical trials and are even more impressive given the fact that conventional clinical trial designs are biased against showing health benefits of essential nutrients.

Therefore, taking a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement will not only help fill the known nutritional gaps in the average American diet, thereby assuring normal biological function and metabolism and supporting  good health, but may also have the added benefit of reducing cancer and cataract risk (a bonus!) – which no existing pharmaceutical drug can do!  To say the ‘case is closed’ and label multivitamin supplements as useless, harmful, or wasteful is non-scientific and does not serve public health.

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Alexander Michels, PhD

Alexander Michels is a Research Associate and Communications Officer for the Linus Pauling Institute. He has an extensive background in the research on vitamin C, with a specialty in understanding vitamin C transport through the body. His expertise also extends to research on other aspects of antioxidant vitamin metabolism and the action of phytochemicals.