9th Feb 2024
Do I Need a Multivitamin?
Posted by Melanie Winter
We always recommend you eat a healthy, balanced diet with fresh seasonal produce, but a good multivitamin can help fill in the gaps in your diet if your needs aren’t being met. For many people, as they age, they find their appetite reduces often leading to a reduced intake of vital nutrients. Additionally, lots of people go for simple, quick, and easy meals because they're not cooking for a big family anymore or just don't feel like spending hours in the kitchen making fancy dishes.
We often see older people consuming a ‘tea and toast’ diet void of nutrients. Usually, a multivitamin contains the recommended daily intake of many vitamins and minerals, such as B-group vitamins, vitamin D3 and zinc, which can aid general health and well-being and immune function. Overall, a multivitamin can help improve the nutritional status of older people.
What is a multivitamin?
As the name implies, multivitamins contain a combination of nutrients commonly formulated in a single capsule, tablet, liquid, or powder. Multivitamins are one of the most popular supplements in the market. Despite their popularity, the necessity and benefits of a daily multivitamin have been debated in both the popular press and scientific literature.
What are the benefits of taking a multivitamin?
So, why would you want to take a multivitamin? Don’t they just create expensive urine? The popularity of multivitamins is primarily due to the convenience of taking a single product that contains several essential nutrients. The combination of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can benefit our body in numerous ways. These include supporting energy production, immune health, nervous system function and bone health.
Here are some of the common reasons why you might benefit from a multivitamin
- You don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables in your daily diet. Australian dietary guidelines recommend 5-6 x 75g servings of vegetables and 2 x 150g pieces of fruit daily for adults.
- You have digestive issues, such as inflammatory bowel disease or food intolerances, which may decrease the absorption of nutrients.
- You drink a lot of tea or coffee (this can affect absorption of nutrients)
- You have prolonged stress (this can use vitamins at a higher rate)
- You microwave your food (this can deplete some nutrients)
- You smoke or drink alcohol on a regular basis
- You are either pregnant or trying for a baby
- You are only able to eat a restricted diet because of weight loss efforts or other reasons like post-surgery, etc
So, should I take a multivitamin just in case?
The truth is, if you don’t fall into any of the categories listed above and you eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet - you don’t need to take a daily multivitamin. You should be able to acquire the nutrition that your body needs from food.
There are, of course, some exceptions to this based on your dietary restrictions or other health conditions. Certain nutrients can only be obtained from animal sources, such as heme iron and B12, so supplementing these nutrients may be required if you follow a plant-based diet. Women who are pregnant or planning to conceive will benefit from folic acid supplementation to support brain development in their unborn baby.
Also, some multivitamins contain vitamin D3, so if your levels are low, this could help you top up your vitamin D levels.
Do multivitamins make you healthier?
A look at some research
- In a gold-standard randomized control trial (RCT) published in 2023, it was discovered that older adults experienced improved memory after one year and throughout the three-year study period when taking a daily multivitamin compared to a placebo.
This study had 3652 older adults, and the research showed the use of multivitamin supplementation shows potential as a secure and easily accessible method for preserving cognitive health in the elderly.
- The Physicians Health Study II followed 13,361 men in an RCT (the gold standard) for 11 years and found the long-term use of multivitamins when compared with a placebo, had a significant reduction in total cancer risk.
Men were 8% less likely to be diagnosed with cancer. The protective effect was greatest in men with a history of cancer.
- Generally, when looking at the research, no benefits are seen for cardiovascular health by taking a multivitamin formula. Some observational studies show that people who take multivitamins may have better outcomes. But with observational studies, there can be other unaccounted-for factors, so it is hard to draw conclusions. For example, the people taking the multivitamins may have been more health conscious than the others and had better exercise and eating patterns.
- Multivitamins are not crucial for good health, but they can be an insurance policy if you have a depleted diet or any of the factors mentioned above
- A fresh balanced diet can meet most of our needs, but some conditions or situations require extra nutrients, such as pregnancy and breastfeeding or lifestyle choices for vegans and vegetarians etc
- The research has been mixed but different studies have looked at different aspects
- Research has been quite good for cognitive health in the elderly and a reduced incidence of cancer in some people
- But the research on multivitamins in particular for cardiovascular health was not as strong