Health & Wellness

Should You Really Be Taking a Multivitamin?

Unless your doctor prescribes a supplement, your diet, not a pill, is the way to keep yourself healthy


By Katrina Caruso


If you want to be healthy, you need to get your vitamins, right? We all know that following a balanced diet provides a wide range of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. In some cases, that might not be enough and doctors will sometimes prescribe or recommend a specific supplement.

For the year 2015, though, Statistics Canada reported that just over 45% of Canadians a year old or older (about 15.7 million of us) were taking at least one nutritional supplement. The use of supplements increased with age. And over the last two decades, a number of studies have produced results that condemn the use of vitamin supplements, showing that those who consume them are more likely to die prematurely and to face increased risks for cancers and heart disease. The evidence is that nutritional supplements are being overused.

While certain supplements can be beneficial, especially when prescribed by a doctor, the general population often takes vitamin or nutritional supplements that they don’t need. It seems to be that many believe that a pill can be a shortcut to health, but that’s not the case.

For example, in 2011, a study at the University of Minnesota showed that women who took a multivitamin were more likely to die sooner than those who did not. A 2005 review of research at the John Hopkins School of Medicine looked at 19 studies that involved a total of over 136,000 patients and found evidence that vitamin E in particular can be associated with an increased incidence of death. Multivitamins were not, however, found to decrease the risk for heart disease and cancer, nor were they associated with any improvement in brain or memory function.

Experts say that part of the problem is that the regulations governing vitamin supplements are too relaxed. According to November 2017 article in Business Insider, thousands of Americans end up in the emergency room every year due to unregulated vitamin and supplement ingredients. The vitamin and “natural” supplement industry brings in $37 billion a year in the United States (a number that continues to rise), but many health experts suggest that that money could simply be put towards higher quality groceries for the household instead.

If you’re concerned about your health, you should be focussing on your diet. An easy way to get started is to aim for at least a portion or two of fruits and vegetables in an array of colours with every meal, especially fibre-rich produce (raspberries, apples, bananas, carrots, beets, and broccoli are all great) and leafy greens. These tend to contain high levels of other ingredients that enhance the natural vitamins and minerals in them.

As always, discuss any concerns with your doctor.


Photo: iStock/hudiemm.