Assorted fruits multivitamins concept

(© Pixelbliss - stock.adobe.com)

About half of U.S. adults take a daily multivitamin. If you find that you’re one of them, it might be time to reconsider the old habit. There is solid evidence to support that they are largely useless, so most of the hype is just really good marketing and public relations. As a dietitian, I’ll explain why multivitamins are not a top choice for most people.

Most people see the word “multi” in multivitamin and just assume that the supplement has everything they need without knowing what it actually provides. The reality is that there is no clear-cut way to define a multivitamin, as nutrient amounts vary depending on the product.

They can come in the form of pills, gummies, powders, and even liquids. Most products say take one per multivitamin day, but always read the label for your specific brand. Generally speaking, multivitamins provide most of the essential vitamins and minerals we need on a daily basis. However, people could obtain these nutrients through food.

While some small studies have shown that multivitamins can provide certain boosts, such as improvements in memory, an overwhelming majority of research suggests that they hardly do anything at all. A recent review from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) analyzed research from 84 studies and almost 700,000 people and found that the supplements had little to no benefit for the prevention of major illnesses like cancer and heart disease. In other words, a multivitamin isn’t likely to make or break your health, and it might be better to just save your money.

Vitamins and supplements
Supplements (© MarekPhotoDesign.com – stock.adobe.com)

Who might need multivitamins?

There are always exceptions, and some people do need multivitamins, so working with your doctor and dietitian can help better assess your specific needs. For example, some people with gastrointestinal conditions like Crohn’s Disease may need additional vitamin supplementation because of poor nutrient absorption by their bodies.

Similarly, gastric bypass surgery patients often take multivitamins for the rest of their lives due to impaired absorption. If you are on a diet that restricts several food groups for a medical reason, you may also receive a recommendation to take nutritional supplements.

Yellow supplements in a person's hand
(Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash)

Not only does research show that multivitamins provide barely any benefit for the average person, but it also shows that they could be harmful in some cases. There are two groups of vitamins: water and fat soluble.

Water soluble vitamins get excreted out of your body through urine when there is too much available in the body. However, fat soluble vitamins don’t leave the body as easily and can instead accumulate and potentially cause harm.

Vitamin A is an example of a fat-soluble vitamin that most health experts recommend consuming only through food because of the risks for toxicity. If you eat a varied and balanced diet and also take a multivitamin, you may be getting more of different nutrients than you actually need.

Depending on which nutrients they are, you either excrete the excess in your urine, risk harmful accumulation, or don’t reap any benefits at all. As a dietitian, my general guidance is always to optimize your food intake first before resorting to any sort of supplementation.

Bottom Line

Although it might feel like you’re doing the healthy thing, multivitamins are not the ticket to a clean bill of health. If you are concerned that you have nutrient deficiencies, it’s best to get tested and then supplement exactly what you need.

Multivitamins often just jam a bunch of nutrients that you don’t really need, even if you only eat a semi-healthy diet. Relying on these supplements in order to excuse an unhealthy diet is also not the best idea. One of the most efficient ways to ensure you keep your vitamin and mineral supply up is to eat a versatile diet that you can sustain long-term.

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About Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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36 Comments

  1. Luca Signorelli says:

    Seriously? On the basis of one study this person recommends ceasing the use of multivitamins. Were the authors of the study the same ones who told people that masks prevented the spread of Covid? Were they the same ones who told people natural immunity was inferior to the use of the vaccines? Sorry I refuse to believe the so called science until I read multiple studies that corroborate these findings.

    1. The Other Bill says:

      You’re right. Find the original study, not a journalist’s interpretation of a study, and see what the actual data and study say. Journalists usually get it wrong.
      Also, I’d like to ask the expert who worries about Vitamin A overdose precisely how many overdoses of Vitamin A (s)he has seen in practice, zero or one ?

    2. Gila Medic says:

      Amen!!

    3. Dadd says:

      You are so certain to be right you create a strawman. Masks dont stop the spread of covid. THEY HELP STOP THE SPREAD OF COVID.
      Now either you are 100% dishonest n still say they dont. Which is totally absurd. Surgeons have been wearing masks for a hundred and fifty years. Or you have to admit that masks do help stop covid.

    4. Michael Claiborne says:

      “84 studies and almost 700,000”

    5. otis pishaw says:

      wearing a mask is not 100% protection, think of it like peeing naked and peeing with cloths on. You pee naked it sprays everywhere! You have cloths on most it stays with you.

  2. Michael Fessler says:

    There’s a simple test to validate an individual level’s of minerals/ heavy metals using the Oligoscan. A spectrophotometer device scientifically scans the skin ions without removing any blood. Each person metabolizes minerals at a different rate and a multivitamin is just a guess to cover one’s mineral needs. Without knowing if one’s lymphatic system is working properly the heavy metal salts may restrict the utilization of minerals one takes.

  3. Michael 'Seattle' Bol says:

    Eating right is so easy, even those on food stamps can buy fresh fruits. No excuse

    1. John Graf says:

      Tell us, in detail, your experience living on what they give you in Food Stamps.

      When California changed the name from Food Stamps to CalFresh, instead of the national name SNAP, we all laughed…yeah, what fresh food can you afford?

  4. George says:

    This reads a lot like just an ad for Dietitians.

    1. John Graf says:

      “Experts” don’t want people doing self-help…no profit in the latter.

      1. Frank pontillo says:

        Just eat your soil depleted pesticide infested fruits and veggies and steroid antibiotic meat and big pharma will be happy to put you on meds. After all the COVID propaganda can we ever trust the government and big pharma and media again?

    2. Pat MaGroyn says:

      Or big pharma

    3. john donald says:

      I just want make a comment regarding eating “fresh. I live alone aged 84 and on a fairly tight budget. I tried fresh and ended up having to throw more away than I could eat. So I decided buy a dozen individual vitamins of the sio-called important ones which I take every other day. Best regards George.

  5. Bev says:

    There is the assumption that it’s EASY to eat a balanced diet. No, it’s not if you aren’t all that active and gain weight easily. Some people can live on nice healthy steamed vegetables and others would rather die. Vitamins are cheap insurance, and NOTHING was said about potential harm except for Vitamin A — and we all know we aren’t supposed to eat a whole polar bear liver at one sitting.

  6. SuzanneL says:

    Sooo tired of hoax “science”.

    1. Danny says:

      I agree my doctor recommended taking multivitamins. And food pyramid is not current for diet advice anymore.

  7. David W says:

    People seem to be taking the conclusion here pretty hard. Aside from the quacky stuff about people knowing your mineral needs, it’s not hard to grasp and it isn’t the first study to come to the same conclusion.

    Similar effects are observed from medications, like statins. Observe levels of healthier people, assume you can medicate others to have the same levels and the same results and you can get the same levels but the results don’t show up. In fact at younger ages for most of the population, the outcome is worse.

    What makes people think nature says “hey, grind up everything in to a powder, make it long shelf life, and wooooweeeee! We’re going to live forever?”

    1. John Graf says:

      GARBAGE supplements do little to nothing. Whole food and bioavailable supplements are the opposite.

      If you get your supplements at Walmart, you may or may not derive benefit. If you get them from a reputable manufacturer that actually cares about quality and bioavailability, you’re not just flushing your money. My labs show the results.

  8. mark says:

    This article convinced me that multivitamins work and the only thing they harm are the profits of pharma corporations. I just bought more vitamins to spite these vampires.

  9. John Graf says:

    Quack, quack!

  10. Tom Bzik says:

    Statistical evaluation of the impact of vitamins typically suffers from adverse selection. Those with health problems or not feeling well are more likely to be taking a multivitamin or vitamins. When multivitamins appear to have no impact, adverse selection implies that there was a positive impact. The article is written to strongly demonize the taking of multivitamins, revealing the very strong bias of the author.

  11. Bob says:

    Another empty study likely funded by the pharmaceutical companies!

  12. Corey Pauck says:

    By the way, any improvement you see when you fertilize your lawn and plants is just your imagination. No wonder the American life expectancy is going down with the big pharma idiots at the helm.

  13. Jim C. says:

    Coffee, alcohol, dark chocolate, vitamins…flip-flop science.

  14. Blaine says:

    This is a dangerous and misguided article which doesn’t appear to be authored by a Dr but a dietician.

    Yes, multi vitamins should never be treated as a cure all, but they’re great for people with poor diets. This article tries to paint them as worthless and they’re simply isn’t evidence (even in the cited study) to say or suggest that.

    Taking a multi vitamin literally changed my life after visiting Dr’s, nutritionists & dieticians.

    1. Marvin L McConoughey says:

      I stated using multivitamins only after first consulting with my doctor and getting his approval.

  15. Tom Dockery says:

    She can do what she wants.
    As for myself,it’s full speed ahead for my plan to toss the coin at Superbowl 100 in 2066 and to be on the White House lawn for the Tricentennial with President Barron Trump on July 4,2076.

  16. errsta says:

    Joke’s on you: I’m in it for the neon colored urine.

  17. Jason B says:

    Absolutely funded by big pharma. What did Covid teach us? That if everyone had been taking a 3 cent vitamin D pill every day, Covid would’ve been stopped before it started. These studies are always skewed to show ineffectiveness. The dose rates of the vitamins and minerals is never a therapeutic dose, but something like only 8-10% of therapeutic. Which is useless.

  18. brian says:

    I have spent 25 years in the dietary supplement industry mostly in regulatory affairs.As a nutritionist i advocate for relying on food as your source of nutrients. The data is clear that a signficant percentage of the population does not meet the minimum daily requirements for several nutrients. it can even be challenging for the most well intentioned at times. A multivitamin isn’t designed to replace a healthy diet, but it is mean’t to supplement a healthy diet. The required statement “This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease” is clearly stated on the label so when studies are published showing multivitamins DO NOT prevent disease it shouldn’t be a surprise. Does that mean nutrients are not important? Absolutely not. Taking a multivitamin is a convenient and affordable way to help one meet their daily nutrient requirements as a SUPPLEMENT to a wholesome nutrient dense diet.

  19. John E Krogmann says:

    This article is precluding the implementation of Codex Alimentarius, big pharma’s plan to classify vitamins as drugs, thus preventing people from supplementing their diets in order to prevent diseases.

  20. Scott Punds says:

    Surely by now, you can tell no one “trusts the science” anymore. You have ruined that with the COVID, VAX, MASKS, IVM and HCQ lies that have been spewed that defies common sense and true science. You all have a choice to make, keep playing along with this bullshit and be found complicit at the end of the day in harming people with known lies & fake studies. OR stand up and do the right thing and tell the truth. The choice is yours, however, there are always consequences with choices. Choose carefully, or when this is all brought to light, you will all be unemployed and totally irrelevant.