A multivitamin is a pretty complex thing. You’ve got a sundry soup of ingredients, with different brands containing varying doses and diverse biochemical forms. Some multivitamins brands altogether skip certain ingredients, while others include megadoses of one or more nutrients. The medley of multivitamin brands on the shelf can be perplexing and more difficult to navigate than finding the best pasta sauce in the grocery store aisle.
The authors of a recent publication in the Archives of Internal Medicine stated, “We cannot recommend the use of vitamin and mineral supplements as a preventive measure, at least not in a well-nourished population,” they add. “Those supplements do not replace or add to the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables and may cause unwanted health consequences.”
Though eating fruits and vegetables have powerful health benefits and these kinds of foods likely contain powerful nutrients that we haven’t even identified yet, we also know that our soils are depleted of specific nutrients, like magnesium and other micro minerals. And let’s face it, Americans know we are not a well-nourished population, especially with diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity skyrocketing.
With multivitamin supplements, a high-quality, well-researched multivitamin is actually one of the most powerful defenses against diseases such as these. It is very easy to evaluate by a blood test which kinds of vitamin deficiency an individual may have, and formulate a specialized supplement regimen based on those personal micronutrient deficiencies.
At Cederquist Medical Wellness Center, we provide these test results for patients who are interested in finding out specific nutrients their body is lacking, any vitamin deficiency, and their overall antioxidant status.
According to the authors, “Based on existing evidence, we see little justification for the general and widespread use of dietary supplements.” By surveying women 3 times in 1986, 1997 and 2004, the researchers claim they observed an increased risk of death with multivitamin use.
Specifically, they observed Vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, and zinc were associated with about a 3% to 6% increased risk for death, whereas copper was associated with an 18.0% increased risk for total mortality when compared with women who did not take supplements. In contrast, use of calcium decreased the risk for death for participants, who were women between the ages of 55-69.
The problem with this study is it used self-reported surveys to gather information, and relied on the memory of women to ascertain their habits over a period of 18 years. They did not relate cause of death, or any other specific contributing factors.
This is unsatisfying, because it is well known that some ingredients in a multivitamin help cancer cells grow better, as they do with healthy body cells too. For example, folic acid has been associated with increased risk of colon cancer in some studies, while other studies have determined that it does not. Many people lack a certain gene that allows them to convert folic acid to the active form. At Cederquist Medical Wellness Center, we are picky with the quality of the multivitamins we recommend. All of the vitamins we recommend are made with methylfolate, which is already in the active form.
That being said, specific recommendations for multivitamin use should be evaluated in any patient with specific health issues, to make sure the dose and form of those supplements are not going to make a bad situation any worse. As a physician Dr. Caroline Cederquist knows that vitamin deficiency and mineral optimization is more complex than many people believe. It’s not as simple as just take a multivitamin. It is best managed by a physician who understands the interplay between vitamins and nutrient and drugs, medical conditions, and even genetics.