Are Vitamins Helpful? Who Can They Benefit?

Have you seen the commercials for adult gummy vitamins? They’re a chewy way to get multivitamins, even for adults. For the calorie conscious, each gummy vitamin has about 15 calories. It’s not a lot but the calories can add up – 105 per week! That’s about the same as five dark chocolate Hershey’s Kisses.

Something the vitamin commercials don’t say is how important it is to take a multivitamin — chewy or not.

When we say multivitamins, we’re talking about what are known as multivitamin/mineral dietary supplements.

Most of us can and should get all the vitamins we need from a balanced, healthful diet. However, if you’d like to ensure you get the nutrients you need, taking a multivitamin might help.

What Are The Cautions Related to Vitamins?

Taking a basic multivitamin is unlikely to be a problem. However, if you eat fortified foods (such as bread or pasta fortified with folic acid or milk with added vitamin D), taking certain multivitamin/mineral dietary supplements can increase your chances of getting excessive amounts of nutrients.

This can happen with nutrients such as iron, vitamin A, zinc, niacin and folic acid. Your chances of getting excessive nutrient amounts increase if you’re taking more than the typical once-daily multivitamin.

What can too much of a nutrient do? Too much vitamin C or zinc may cause nausea, diarrhea or stomach cramps. Too much selenium can cause selenosis — a condition marked by hair and nail loss, garlic breath, fatigue and nerve damage.

Men and postmenopausal women may want to avoid taking a supplement with 18 mg or more of iron. (Check with your health care provider for a recommendation on what you should take.) Too much iron can build up in organs such as the liver and heart causing damage. Keep supplements with iron out of reach of children. Iron supplements can be toxic for younger children.

Smokers should avoid multivitamins with large amounts of beta-carotene and vitamin A. These supplements appear to be related to an increased risk for developing lung cancer.

If a pregnant woman gets too much vitamin A during pregnancy, birth defect risks can increase. Always ask your health care provider about what’s the best recommendation for you if you’re pregnant.

Your best approach is to be aware of the nutrition in your food and in multivitamins you take so you get what you need

Surprisingly, people who take multivitamins tend to get more vitamins and minerals from food than those who don’t take multivitamins. People who are less likely to get enough nutrients from their diet alone are also less likely to take a multivitamin.

Can Multivitamins Help Fight Disease?

Some people can benefit from a multivitamin for help in fighting certain medical conditions. For example, studies of high doses of select vitamins and minerals have found they may slow vision loss in some patients with age-related macular degeneration.

Otherwise, current medical knowledge is too limited to recommend multivitamins to lower the risks of diseases such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes.

The challenge is that studies tend to examine specific multivitamin products. Since manufacturers can change their multivitamin compositions whenever they choose, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact effects of multivitamin use.

Should You Take a Multivitamin?

Most people can get the nutrition they need from their foods. A healthful diet includes the expected vitamins and minerals. Its also gives you things like fiber and other substances that help boost your health.

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, on a low-calorie diet or have a poor appetite, you might consider taking a multivitamin to ensure you get the nutrients you need.

You might consider taking a multivitamin if you’re: 

  • Pregnant – Around 400 mcg per day of folic acid from foods and/or multivitamins may help reduce some birth defect risks. Take an iron supplement as recommended by your health care provider. Some prenatal multivitamins include iron.
  • Breastfeeding – Babies should get 400 IU per day of vitamin D. Your provider may recommend receiving vitamin D from a supplement.
  • Postmenopausal – You can increase your bone strength and reduce your risk for bone fractures by taking supplemental calcium and vitamin D. A caution: When you add the total amount of calcium you ingest from both your regular diet and your supplement, the amount should not exceed 1,200 mg per day. Too much calcium has been linked to the formation of kidney stones.
  • Over age 50 – Since you might not absorb enough vitamin B12 from food, consider a supplement or a fortified food.

Three recent studies found that taking multivitamins didn’t prevent heart problems or memory loss. Multivitamins were not tied to a longer life span. The studies found that multivitamin and mineral supplements did not work any better than placebo pills.

Check with your health care professional about the multivitamins that might be right for you.

If you’d like reassurance that the multivitamins you take provide the expected nutrition, look for vitamins that are verified by the U.S. Pharmacopeal Convention. USP is a nonprofit organization that sets standards for dietary supplements. The USP verification means the product has voluntarily met the organization’s requirements.

 

If you find this information helpful, get more useful health content on the Aurora Health Care Facebook page

Meet the Author

Holly A. Leider, MD, is a board-certified internal medicine physician located at Aurora Health Center in Milwaukee, WI. 

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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