Multivitamins on a yellow background.
Multivitamins are dietary supplements that are made with nutrients and minerals.

Do Multivitamins Work?

According to Grand View Research, the global dietary supplements market size was estimated at $123.28 billion in 2019. It seems almost everybody you meet is on some sort of multivitamin or dietary supplement. But do multivitamins work? Or are they a clever marketing ploy? This article will guide you through some of the reasons as to why people take multivitamins, their pros and cons, and it offers an assessment on whether they really work or not.

Why Do People Take Multivitamins?

First off, a definition of what we mean by multivitamin: a multivitamin is any dietary supplement that contains many different varieties of nutrients, including vitamins and minerals. They can also contain other ingredients for flavor, color and composition.

There are two main reasons people might take multivitamins. The first is pretty straightforward, a doctor might advise you to take one. This could be for a variety of reasons. You might be on a vegan or vegetarian diet and you may be missing a few key nutrients (for example, vitamin B12 is only found in animal foods). Or you might be pregnant or breastfeeding, which usually involves taking prenatal or postnatal vitamins to help ensure the health of you and your baby.

However, most people who take multivitamins have not been asked to do so by their doctor. They’re available right off the shelf at any drugstore or supermarket. So, multivitamins are not always taken strictly out of medical necessity. The other reason people take multivitamins is simply that they believe them to be healthy. After all, if multivitamins contain vitamins and minerals, then they must be healthy for you, or even essential for keeping good health.

Pros and Cons of Multivitamins

The reality of the effectiveness of multivitamins is a bit more complicated. Read on to find out more about some of the pros and cons to taking multivitamins.

The Pros

Multivitamins contain many of the vitamins and minerals that your body needs to function, generally in quantities larger than your body needs to account for issues with absorption. When they are taken as directed, can improve your overall physical and mental health and reduce your risk for vitamin deficiency.

And, for those on diets who may be missing certain nutrients (like vegan or vegetarian diets), those who have limits on intake of food (like recent gastric bypass patients), or even for picky eaters, multivitamins can guarantee a certain baseline level of vitamins entering your body every day.

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The Cons

Multivitamins and other dietary supplements can be costly since they must be taken everyday and are not usually considered prescription medications that would be covered by insurance.

Relying on multivitamins for nutrients can lead people to not seek out healthy foods in their life, believing they are getting all needs met by the vitamins. This can be dangerous and lead to health problems.

Because multivitamins are available in stores without a prescription, it is easy to purchase and take a vitamin that may do more harm than good, depending on your needs. For example, men need less iron than women, so a man will usually get all the iron he needs through meat and eggs. If he takes a multivitamin that contains iron, he could put himself at risk for vitamin toxicity, or illness caused by an overload of a certain vitamin. Some vitamins are more harmful in high concentrations than others. For example, vitamins E and K are relatively nontoxic, but vitamins A and D can be highly toxic if overconsumed.

The Verdict: Do Multivitamins Actually Work?

The overall verdict is that yes. Vitamins do work… if used correctly.

Vitamins are not a substitute for a healthy diet. The best way to get the nutrients your body needs is by eating a balanced diet that contains lots of fruits and vegetables, a sufficient amount of protein, and limits excess carbohydrates. This is how humans got their nutrients before the first multivitamins and it still works today.

However, a daily multivitamin can serve as an extra support if you are not getting the amount of nutrients your body requires each day. Vitamins and other dietary supplements are not substitutes for other healthy lifestyle choices. Rather, they supplement these choices. That’s why they’re called dietary supplements. Otherwise they would be called dietary substitutes.

Whether you take a multivitamin because your doctor advised you to, or for another reason, always make sure to consult a medical professional when adding new medications (which includes vitamins) to your regime. With vitamins, more is not always better, so it is important to keep your medical provider updated on what you are taking to prevent vitamin toxicity.

Multivitamins should be one of many tools in your personal health toolkit, along with a good diet, regular exercise, good sleep and regular checkups. They are not the be all and end all. However, if used correctly, multivitamins can be one valuable asset towards living a better, healthier life.