Does everyone need to take a multivitamin? Here’s what the doctor says

Does everyone need to take a multivitamin?  Here’s what the doctor says

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You probably know at least one person who swears by taking a daily multivitamin — or you take one yourself.

About one-third of U.S. adults reported taking vitamin and mineral supplements in the past month when they were asked to, according to data from 2017 through March 2020 collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly a quarter of U.S. teens and children aged 19 or younger took a multivitamin during the same time period.

While there’s usually no harm in adding supplements to your diet, if you’re a generally healthy adult, it also wouldn’t hurt if you don’t take a multivitamin, says Dr. Elizabeth Kuo, an internist and medical director of UCLA Hospital. Angeles Integrative Health Medicine.

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“The concern I see is that people view multivitamins as ‘cheat pills’ that then give them permission to be less strict in their nutritional patterns. It’s not a crutch,” Kuo tells CNBC Make It.

Multivitamins can be taken in several different forms including gummies, capsules and even liquids, which are increasing in popularity. The search term “liquid multivitamin reviews” received 6 million views on TikTok.

But here’s what Kuo suggests doing instead of buying a multivitamin, if you’re generally healthy.

More important than taking a multivitamin, Kuo says, is making sure you’re eating the right foods and getting those vitamins in your diet naturally. Multivitamins usually include vitamins A, B complex, C, D, and F E, and in some cases minerals such as magnesium and zinc.

“For generally healthy adults, my advice is to focus on a whole foods, predominantly plant-based, Mediterranean-style eating pattern,” Ko says. “This approach, rich in phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals, should provide most if not all of the necessary nutrients.”

Adhering to a Mediterranean diet means prioritizing whole grains, beans, and fresh fruits and vegetables. This way of eating also focuses on limiting certain foods such as red meat, processed foods, and sweets.

Kuo’s suggestion is backed by research: Following a Mediterranean diet has been linked to a lower likelihood of developing diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Research also shows that there is no strong benefit in taking multivitamins for generally healthy individuals. A JAMA study published in 2022 that reviewed more than 80 studies and included more than 700,000 people found that there was “little or no benefit in preventing cancer, cardiovascular disease, and death” from taking vitamin and mineral supplements, including multivitamins.

“It is important to remember that multivitamins can in no way replace a healthy, balanced diet,” the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said in its Nutrition Advice Center.

“The main purpose of multivitamins is to fill nutritional gaps, and provides only a glimpse of the wide range of healthy nutrients and chemicals naturally found in food.”

However, there are some people who may need to consider adding a multivitamin to their diet, according to Kuo.

“Vegetarians and vegans tend to follow dietary patterns that are low in vitamin D, iron, and vitamin B12. There simply are not many plant sources of these nutrients,” she says.

“If these levels are low — which can be tested via blood — a vegetarian or vegan may benefit from these supplements.”

In addition, people with stomach problems such as inflammatory bowel disease, as well as those who have had bariatric surgery or small intestine resection in the past, may want to talk to their doctor about taking a multivitamin as well, Kuo notes.

For individuals with nutrient deficiencies, “multivitamins can play an important role when nutritional requirements are not met by diet alone,” according to Nutrition Source.

But for generally healthy people, “as long as there is an emphasis on a whole foods, plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet, a person should get all their nutrients from food and will not miss out by not taking a multivitamin.” Ko says.

“However, if these (people) choose to take a multivitamin in order to supplement a balanced diet, rather than replace it, I see no problem with this approach.”

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