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