They seem like a smart addition to your daily routine — you follow a wholesome diet, get regular physical activity, and pop a multivitamin every day.
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Indeed, multivitamin supplements are often marketed as a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle. But do these vitamins actually help your overall health? And does everyone need to take them?
Facts About Multivitamins
A look at the label on your multivitamin
By definition, a multivitamin (or multivitamin/multimineral) supplement is a combination of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Common ingredients include:
- Vitamins A, C, D, and E
- Folic acid and other B vitamins
These products typically also contain binders, artificial colors, and — in the case of chewable supplements — artificial flavorings.
You are typically supposed to take multivitamins once a day and follow the recommended daily dose of nutrients, though some brands may differ.
Multivitamins are not for everyone
Multivitamin and multimineral supplements probably won’t improve your health if you’re already eating a balanced diet.
Instead, they’re meant to act as insurance, filling in gaps when you’re not getting enough essential nutrients. Most studies of multivitamins haven’t shown any benefit in terms of reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease, or diabetes.
The bottom line: Ask your doctor if you could benefit from a daily multivitamin supplement.
That may be because supplements contain isolated vitamins and minerals, while food provides a full a whole range of nutrients, fiber, and other important substances that can benefit health.
Who might benefit from multivitamins
While taking a multivitamin probably won’t be of much value if you’re already healthy, taking one might help people who have certain health problems.
For example, pregnant women need higher amounts of vitamins that help prevent birth defects, such as folic acid. Premenopausal women might require iron, while older men and women don’t need extra amounts of this mineral. And older adults, who tend to have trouble absorbing vitamin B12, may need different forms of this nutrient.
“And vitamins can potentially harm you or interact with other supplements or prescribed medications,” says Kevin Wong, MD, Westmoreland Family Medicine-UPMC. “So, if you do take any vitamins or supplements, be sure all your health care providers know exactly what you are taking and your dosage.”