Dr. Harriet Hall of Science-Based Medicine has an excellent post about whether people should routinely take vitamins.
The short answer from the American Association of Family Physicians: In general, multivitamins are unnecessary. Certain populations (such as women planning pregnancy or infants) can benefit from taking certain supplements. However, as a general rule, the need for vitamins and their dose should be tailored to the patient, as large doses of certain vitamins can also cause harm.
A point to consider:
Critics of medicine often pick on Big Pharma for its profit motives. How much money do you think Big Vitamin makes (According to various sources, $20-40 billion a year~Estherar)? How much money is being spent on unnecessary vitamins that provide no real benefit? Any excess is promptly eliminated. Are we just producing expensive urine? Are our toilets getting the benefit? Are all those vitamins in our sewage good for the environment?
One could argue that multivitamins are good for healthy sewage bacteria and healthy profits for manufacturers. But I’d rather support my own health than theirs.
In my practice, I give multivitamins only to people on a very restrictive diet (e.g, children who ‘eat nothing’, or nothing but 3 kinds of food). Otherwise, supplements are tailored to the person’s needs – fertile women get folic acid, those with vitamin B12 defiviency get vitamin B12, postmenopausal women or those who don’t eat/drink milk products get calcium with or without vitamin D. And of course, vitamin D and iron drops for babies under a year old. I also find myself providing education about how vitamins are not a ‘tonic’ – e.g, if there is no iron deficiency, giving a 5-year-old child iron won’t perk him up, so let’s check for it before pushing the iron. Ditto for vitamins in general.
Another important point made in the article:
There is no convincing evidence that taking supplements of vitamin C prevents any disease except scurvy.
Though the tree-huggers at mothering.com recommend it to cure everything from the common cold to cancer…
Actually, there is something I use vitamin C for other than scurvy: because any extra vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is excreted in the urine, women who suffer from recurrent UTIs can take it to acidify their urine as a precautionary measure. Cheaper than cranberry extract, too.
Filed under: Diet