You May Be Wasting Your Money on Multivitamins

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
January 12, 2023
You May Be Wasting Your Money on Multivitamins

Many Americans aren’t short of the nutrients in these popular supplements. If you are, improve your diet. Taking multivitamins are probably a waste of money.

Should you take a multivitamin? It may boost intake of nutrients that you’re missing in your diet, but in some cases you may be getting too much for safety.

The bottom line: No one has shown that daily multivitamins improve health outcomes.  

Reports from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) declare that there’s too little evidence to conclude whether multivitamins help prevent heart disease or cancer, the leading causes of death.

Yet the pills are very popular. More than half of all U.S. adults take one supplement or another, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Around a quarter of adults younger than 60 take a multivitamin, as do almost 40 percent of people older than 60.


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"Study after study comes back negative — yet people continue to take supplements, now at record rates," said Edgar Miller, MD, one of five authors of an editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine, “Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.” Miller is a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

People clearly feel that they’re taking better care of themselves if they swallow a pill, but they’re wasting their money, the authors argued, and could even be hurting their health. Beta-carotene, vitamin E, and possibly high doses of vitamin A supplements may increase death rates, the researchers said.

Meanwhile, the supplement industry keeps growing. Americans have steadily been taking more of one kind of supplement or another since the late 1980s, with big increases during the past decade.

Do you really need a multivitamin?

If you aren’t eating well, you might. In one assessment of the self-reported diet and supplements of nearly 11,000 U.S. adults, researchers found that vitamin supplements boosted levels of nutrients that would have been inadequate from diet alone, specifically for calcium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin E.

Yet there’s plenty of science with disappointing results. In one study, researchers followed 6,000 male doctors ages 65 and older to see the effect of taking a daily multivitamin over 12 years. The multivitamin was intended to prevent mental decline, but it did no better than a placebo.

Focusing on 1,700 people who had already had a heart attack, yet another study examined whether high doses of multivitamins and minerals could prevent another heart attack, a stroke, or death. The supplements hadn’t made a difference five years later.

A large USPSTF review analyzed clinical trials that in total included 450,000 older adults, looking for evidence that either multivitamins or other vitamins taken individually or in pairs affected mortality or cancer or heart disease. There wasn’t any.

Misleading labels

Because supplements are not regulated in the same way as drugs, you don’t really know what you’re getting. The uncertainty applies to well-known brands.  

When the testing company LabDoor analyzed dozens of best-selling multivitamin supplements in the United States — measuring levels of key vitamins (A, B-3, B-6, C, D, and folic acid), and minerals (calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and zinc) — more than half earned a “C” or lower grade.

Simply put: The contents didn’t match the label.

In one example, when the group evaluated Twinlab Daily One Caps it found that it contained 27 percent less vitamin A than promised. Others — including three products from GNC — contained more of certain vitamins than stated. NatureMade Multi for Him had 175 percent more vitamin B-6 than it claimed.

One problem is that you could overdose. Too much vitamin B-6, for example, can interfere with your muscle control and coordination. But these overdoses are probably rare.

The real danger is eating poorly. The nutrient value of food is a mix of fiber, calories, and nutrients. If you take a multivitamin and eat too much low-fiber food laden with fat, sugar, and salt, you’re buying an illusion of health.

For those of us with decent diets, there’s probably other areas that could stand improvement.

Building muscle strength would very likely be good for your well-being, though your workout will take longer than swallowing a pill. Most of us also need more sleep.

You get the idea. Just about everyone could benefit from more exercise, sleep, and vegetables, and less stress.


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January 12, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA and Janet O'Dell, RN