WHAT ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF MULTIVITAMINS? DO THEY WORK AS CLAIMED?
Multivitamins are the most widely-used supplements globally.
The past few decades have witnessed an astronomic rise in their popularity (1, 2).
Many people believe that multivitamins can boost a person’s health, drastically minimize the risk of chronic diseases, and compensate for unhealthy eating habits.
But the question that rings through the minds of many is if these acclaimed benefits are true?
Well, this article will address this issue. We will investigate the evidence-based health benefits of multivitamins.
What are multivitamins?
They are supplements containing a variety of vitamins and minerals, together with other ingredients (3).
Because there is no set standard as to what constitutes a vitamin, the nutrient content of these supplements varies based on the brand and product.
Multivitamins are known by other names, such as multiples, multis, multi-minerals, or just vitamins.
Users of multivitamins must seek medical attention if you suspect that you've taken too much of a particular supplement. Overdosing in vitamins A, D, E, or K can result in life-threatening or very serious side effects. Some of the minerals present in a multivitamin may trigger serious symptoms of overdose if you take them in excess.
Vitamins are available in many forms, such as capsules, tablets, chewable, powders, liquids, and gummies.
Generally, most multivitamins should be taken at least once and no more than twice daily. Ensure you study the instructions on the label as well as the recommended dosage instructions before use.
You can buy multivitamins in pharmacies, supermarkets, large discount stores, and online.
What are the components of multivitamins?
You need 13 vitamins and no less than 16 minerals for your body to function optimally.
Most multivitamins enhance enzyme reactions in our bodies an also work as structural elements or signaling molecules.
Multivitamins are also essential for maintenance, reproduction, growth, and regulation of body physiology.
Most of these minerals and vitamins are provided by multivitamins – however, the amounts and forms vary. Other ingredients that are contained in these supplements include fatty acids, amino acids, and herbs.
In the United States, the FDA does not regulate dietary supplements. Thus, the percentage of some nutrients may be higher or lower than what is stated on the label (4).
In some cases, not all of the nutrients listed may be present in the supplement itself. You should know that the supplement industry is a fraudulent one, so you must get your supplements from a manufacturer with a good reputation.
It is worth knowing that the nutrients contained in multivitamins may be gotten from real foods, or synthesized in laboratories.
What should you do before taking the multivitamins?
Vitamins can cause life-threatening side effects to the health if taken in excess. Do not take more than the recommended dosage or as prescribed by your healthcare provider.
If you have some underlying health condition or allergies, ensure you notify your doctor before you start using multivitamins.
Breastfeeding or pregnant mums should consult their doctors before using any supplement. Dosage may vary during pregnancy. You see, some minerals and vitamins can be toxic to unborn babies if taken in excess.
How to take multivitamins
Follow the usage instructions as indicated on the label or as prescribed by your physician.
Take only the recommended dosage of each multivitamin. You mustn't take different products at the same time unless directed by your doctor. Taking similar products at the same time may result in overdose or fatal side effects.
Multivitamins also contain minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. When taken in excess, they can cause side effects like increased urination, tooth staining, uneven heart rate, limp feeling, muscle weakness, confusion, and bleeding in the stomach. Study the label of each product so that you know its contents.
Multivitamins should be taken with a glassful of water. Chewable tablets should be chewed before swallowing.
Sublingual tablets should be placed under the tongue and allowed to dissolve. Never swallow a sublingual tablet or chew it.
If the supplement is in liquid form, measure the liquid carefully. Most supplements come with a dosing syringe or a dose-measuring device. That’s what you should use and not a kitchen spoon.
Multivitamins should be used regularly to get the best benefits.
Store all multivitamins at room temperature and away from moisture and heat. Never freeze multivitamins.
Benefits of multivitamins
Benefits of heart disease
Heart disease is the number one cause of death globally (5).
There are claims that multivitamins can prevent heart diseases, but the pieces of evidence aren't solid. They're mixed.
Some studies have shown that there’s a correlation between the intake of multivitamins and low risks of heart attacks and death. Other studies have not been able to show any effect (6, 7, 8, 9).
For over ten years, Physicians’ Health Study II examined the effects of daily usage of multivitamins in 14,000 male doctors of middle ages.
The study did not establish any reduction in strokes, heart attacks, or mortality (10).
A recent study involving women showed that taking a multivitamin for three years reduced the risk of mortality from heart disease by 35% (11).
Multivitamins & cancer
The evidence regarding multivitamin use and cancer risk is mixed.
While some studies suggest that it doesn’t have any effect on the risk of cancer, other studies have linked its use to increased risk of cancer (6, 8, 12, 13).
A review of five randomized, control trials involving 47,289 subjects found that the risk of cancer was reduced by 31% in men who took multivitamins. However, it did not affect women (14).
Two studies, both observations, found that long-term use of multivitamins was tied to a reduced risk of colon cancer (15, 16).
Also, an observation by the Physicians’ Health Study II found that prolonged, daily use of multivitamins minimized the risk of cancer in men who had no history of the condition. However, it did not have any effect on the risk of death within the study period (17).
What other health benefits do multivitamins have?
Studies have been carried out on other purposes of multivitamins, including ocular health and brain function.
Some studies have shown that multivitamins can improve memory in the elderly (18, 19, 20).
These supplements are also helpful in mood improvement. Studies have established links between nutrient deficiencies and poor mood as well as between multivitamins and enhanced mood or reduced symptoms of depression (21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26).
However, the effect on mood has not been found by other studies (27).
Ocular health means eye health. Macular degeneration due to is a major cause of blindness globally (28).
A study found that intake of antioxidant minerals and vitamins may slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration. However, there is no proof that these compounds can prevent diseases (29, 30).
Nevertheless, there are proofs that multivitamins may minimize one’s risk of cataracts (31).
Do multivitamins cause any harm?
Dosage is a major factor that should be considered when taking multivitamins.
You see, high amounts of multivitamins can be dangerous.
The dosage of a particular supplement depends on the solubility. Vitamins are placed into two main classes based on their solubility:
Water-soluble vitamins: The body expels some of these vitamins when they occur in excess.
Fat-soluble vitamins: The body doesn’t have a way of getting rid of these, so the excess may accumulate in the body for some time.
Examples of fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K. Vitamins E and vitamin K are non-toxic, while A and D may be toxic if they are consumed in excess.
Pregnant women must watch their intake of vitamin A because taking it in excess causes birth defects (32).
Vitamin D toxicity is a rare occurrence and may not likely develop from the usage of multivitamins. Vitamin A toxicity has a higher prevalence (33, 34, 35).
Intake of multivitamins combined with the consumption of nutrient-dense foods can cause you to take in more than the recommended daily intake of most nutrients.
People who smoke should not take multivitamins that contain large amounts of vitamin A or beta carotene. Doing so may heighten your risk of lung cancer (36).
Minerals are also not good when taken in high doses. For instance, taking too much iron may be unhealthy for people who don’t need it (37, 38).
Faulty production is another risk. It may cause the multivitamins to accumulate more nutrients than necessary (39).
What drugs can affect vitamins?
Multivitamins interact with some medications and can affect the actions of that medication in the body. If you are currently on any medications, consult your doctor to be sure whether it is safe to use multivitamins also.
Some drugs that can affect multivitamins include:
- Isotretinoin or tretinoin
- Sulfa drug
- Blood pressure medications
Multivitamins do not guarantee optimal health.
However, they are helpful but may cause harm if taken in excess. If you are deficient in any nutrient, you’re better off supplementing it with that nutrient. Multivitamins contain many nutrients, most of which may not be necessary.
Also, multivitamins should not replace a poor diet. It is important that you eat a balanced diet, containing whole, fresh foods to boost your health.