Multivitamins: Are They Worth It?

Supplement your life with good habits instead


If you’ve taken daily multivitamins for years, you’re not alone — about 40 percent of Americans do. In 2009, we spent $27 billion on multivitamins, and today we probably spend even more.

But do multivitamins work? Experts disagree. Some think that multivitamins supply nutrients missing from our diets. Others think that multivitamins are a crutch — and an expensive one at that.

Cleveland Clinic internist Raul Seballos, MD, Vice Chair of Preventive Medicine and an Executive Health Program specialist, notes that two large studies answer this question.

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The Physicians’ Health Study II tracked multivitamin use in 14,500 male physicians, aged 50 and above, over 11 years. The Iowa Women’s Health study tracked multivitamin and supplement use in 38,772 women over 18 years (the average age at the study’s start was 61).

What multivitamins won’t do

Dr. Seballos says these studies found that:

  • Multivitamins won’t prevent heart attacks or strokes. If you are a healthy adult, taking a multivitamin won’t lower your risk of heart attack, stroke or death from cardiovascular disease.
  • For men, multivitamins won’t prevent common cancers. Taking a multivitamin may lower your overall risk of cancer if you’re a man. But it won’t lower your risks for the most common male cancers: prostate, colon and lung cancer. And taking a multivitamin will not lower your risk of dying from cancer.
  • For women, multivitamins won’t help you live longer. The women’s study found that those taking multivitamins did not survive as long as those who did not.
  • Taking a multivitamin won’t replace healthy habits. “Taking a multivitamin is no substitute for healthy lifestyle choices, such as exercising and eating healthy foods from a balanced diet,” says Dr. Seballos.

When taking multivitamins is important

Anyone who is malnourished or who has a nutritional deficiency needs to take a multivitamin, stresses Dr. Seballos.

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For the rest of us, “the most important thing to ask yourself is, ‘Am I doing everything possible to optimize my overall health before taking a multivitamin and/or supplement?’” he says. “That is your best guarantee of future health.”

5 things you can do to prevent illness

Want proven results? Research shows these steps will reduce your risks of illness — especially cardiovascular disease and cancer, says Dr. Seballos:

  1. Eat a diet low in added sugars, processed foods and saturated and trans fat
  2. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy
  3. Maintain a body mass index close to 25 kg/m2
  4. Remain tobacco-free
  5. Exercise most days of the week

Don’t forget!

Tell your doctor about ALL vitamins and supplements you’re taking. And to ensure a healthier future, ask about important screenings you may need based on your age, sex and family history.

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  • ace0044

    This study was conducted with the Centrum multi.

    What would be interesting if they gave another group a different brand of multivitamin, preferably an organic to see if it made a difference or was more effective.

    • Not convinced

      Agree Ace! That would be most interesting to see. While very popular, and highly marketed, Centrum is mostly synthetic, and I would never take it myself. Certainly would skew valid study results, in my humble opinion.

  • Susan Gresham

    I am a 66yr old female.Do I need to keep taking B-12,calcium,vit D,folic acid,?

  • Rob

    I would argue that most people have a nutritional deficiency and don’t know it. At a cost of less than 5 cents a day, a multivitamin will help to make sure that you won’t.

  • Sharon

    Even though I’m 60 now, I’ve been taking “prenatal” vitamins for 9 yrs plus other vitamins that were recommended by doctor because of weight loss surgery. Most people think I’m 50 and I have no problem keeping up with people in their 40’s. I also walk 4-5 miles a day. I bike, swim, hike, and canoe/kayak.I never have to take a nap during the day like some people do. But if I miss my vitamins for a day, I do get tired.

  • rai m saleem raza

    very nice study i agreed but if someone is diabatic

  • Beth Kohler

    I have replaced a daily multiple vitamin with moringa oleifera. It is 100% absorbable by my body versus peeing out most of what you buy over the counter, I had been taking Centrum. I have also noticed with moringa oleifera that my joint pain eased, my asthma symptoms absolved, I am sleeping better and my mood seems to have improved, plus the added bonus was I lost 20 lbs and my gastric problems have seemed to “passed” away. I am 50 and feel like I did when I was 30. I do, however, take an additional B-12 just because I was low on it when I had my blood work done to check my vitamin levels. Not a miracle “cure” but pretty close to it. I’m just saying……I believe we are living in an obese society that is hugely nutritionally deficient, as hard as we all try to eat well. I’m no doctor, absolutely do not claim to be but we have to do what works for our bodies and this has most definitely worked for me. 22 months drinking my Zija every day…………

    • diane_ross


      • marja

        Their is some info on wikipedia.
        The moringa oleifera.

  • boots4teal

    I want to start taking intramax do any one have any advise on this?And I plan on stopping all my other meds.

  • Brook Underwood

    I’ve read a lot of research that shows that a large percentage of oral vitamins do not even get absorbed and are passed right back out of our body! Suggestion: put your vitamin in a glass of water, and if it does not dissolve in under a minute, most of it is not being absorbed by your body. (Our bodies are made of mostly water!)

    • Greg the Chemist

      Place it in a glass of hydrochloric acid. It’ss what’s in your stomach.

  • Greg the Chemist

    25kg/m2?!? 25mg/m3

  • Don Harline, M.D.

    The medical study related to cancers, heart attacks and strokes was done with centrum. I have been taking supplements from Truestar which are the top rated vitamins according to Nutrisearch Cooperation, and my own anecdotal study is my energy level is better, my joint pains are lower. I have combined this with exercise and nutrition also. There is no better substitute for those 2, but l get great benefit from the supplements also.

  • Amy Smith

    What about someone like myself with malabsorption/malnutrion issues? I had 1/2 of my intestines removed secondary to a benign tumor and have now developed Fibromyalgia because I am unable to absorb nutrients from my diet and also suffer from short-gut syndrome. I am frustrated as I have been to numerous GI specialists and have been offered no real help! I would like my life back!

  • Ann

    Was the study only based on Centrum users? One of my docs feels there are MANY multis superior to that one. I agree that lifestyle choices are what is mOst important. Food expert and author Pollan talks about GREATLY reducing meat and dairy and flour. Keeping sugars like dessert for very occasional special situations only. The majority of our food intake should be vegetables, some fruit and nuts with gOod quality animal protein or dairy a few times a week. I think a Multi is probably a good idea…but do agree sticking to a good diet and other good habits is most important.

  • RD

    This doesn’t address quality of life. Only death or serious illnesses.

  • Dom

    The term ‘supplement’ means additional. They are intended for people who require it. Mostly its athletes. But what people should realize is to get the necessary vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and proteins the average person needs would require to eat properly. Now how many of us eat properly? Not enough. And because of that is where the need arises for supplements. People consume way too many ‘bad’ calories,i.e.sugar, sat fats, and processed foods. So this article needs more detailed comparisons to just say multivitamins are a waste of money.