Do You Really Need to Take a Multivitamin?

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Should you take a multivitaminThis a common question that I get asked quite often. It is also a very common topic in the area of clinical nutrition that receives a great deal of attention and scrutiny. At this point, there seems to be two distinct camps. One camp believes that you can consume all of the necessary nutrients from a “balanced diet” while the other camp believes additional supplementation is essential.

From a clinical context, depending upon the unique set of circumstances, I tend to favor supplementing the diet with specific nutrients only but there can be a place for multivitamin/mineral combinations.

However, when selecting a multivitamin, choose one which meets USDA production standards. The formula should also be iron free and contain no more than 1,000-3,000 IU of vitamin A. Recommending a supplement that contains iron for an individual who is not iron deficient can be very dangerous resulting in damage to arteries, heart, and brain.

In addition, large doses of vitamin A can be toxic as this vitamin is fat-soluble and stored in body tissues even if large doses are ingested. Here are a few cases when multivitamin supplementation may be necessary:


It’s not a bad idea to take a supplement which contains a full spectrum of nutrients with at least one mg of folic acid and 500 mg of omega-3 fats, before, during, and after your pregnancy.

Your increased nutritional needs during this time may not be adequately met through your diet alone. Remember, iron-free formulas only.

Children and early adulthood

Depending upon the unique circumstances, it may be wise to supplement with a small dosage of a multivitamin/mineral combination. This is a time where a phenomenal amount of growth and development occurs and if the diet is not that sound (and frequently it is not), it may be a good idea to do this to improve health and help avoid the higher rates of infections associated with this age group.


This group of people has unique needs based upon their age and disease prevalence. Older folks generally have a problem absorbing nutrients from their diet and the extra calcium and vitamin D can help preserve bone mass and decrease the incidence of some cancers. The extra B-vitamins can also help lower the levels of a dangerous chemical in the blood known as homocysteine which has been linked to the development of heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease in older people. Sometimes older people can become quite malnourished so, in this specialized group, I recommend liquid meal replacements that contain a full spectrum of nutrients.

Other vital groups

For some people, multivitamin supplementation is vital. For example, drug addicts, alcoholics, smokers, or people on multiple prescription drugs (as these compounds can interfere with certain nutrients and how they are absorbed and utilized) may need to supplement with multivitamins. These folks also have increased needs for certain nutrients because of these health issues. The diet profile in these people is also frequently suspect.

People who suffer from gastrointestinal disease, chronic disease, chronic stress, or suffer from chronic infections will also have an increased need for nutrients which may not be acquired with diet alone. Additional supplementation may be required in these cases. Special diets like veganism, macrobiotics, or diets consumed for religious purposes, depending upon the circumstances, may also need to be supplemented with additional, low-dose nutrients.

In my opinion, the use of an iron-free, low dosage multivitamin-mineral combination is safe and can be useful for some groups of people who may require additional nourishment. For those of you who are younger, very physically active, and always on the go but may not always have the best diet out there, this idea may also be appealing to you.

Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Melnick, M., “Should You Take A Multivitamin?” Huffington Post web site, September 9, 2013;, last accessed September 9, 2013.

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