Researchers, such as Regan Bailey at the National Institutes of Health, are unsure where Americans get the idea that they should take a daily multivitamin for better health. “It’s not from the doctors,” says Bailey, a nutritional epidemiologist in the NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements. “The majority of scientific data available does not support the role of dietary supplements for improving health or preventing disease.”
And yet, half of Americans today regularly take vitamin supplements. Half. Besides the obvious role of marketing, why do so many of us allow ourselves to believe that vitamins are good for us with little proof? Have we become a society that believes we can correct an unhealthy lifestyle with a daily pill?
There’s no denying that prolonged deficiency of certain vitamins can lead to illness and disease. The real question, though, is whether vitamin supplements are necessary for healthy individuals.
To visualize the downside of overdosing on vitamins, let’s consider an analogy. Would you take a powerful antibiotic every day, just in case? That kind of attitude leads to the kind of antibiotic resistant bacteria we've seen recently.
So why do we think it's okay to have a just-in-case attitude when it comes to multivitamins? Certainly individuals at risk for a vitamin deficiency due to a poor diet or a preexisting medical condition should consider supplementing with a multivitamin to address that deficiency. But, if you're otherwise healthy and don't suspect a vitamin deficiency, the downsides of multivitamins easily outweigh the benefits.
So what happens when you start pumping too many vitamins and minerals into your body? Two meta-analyses of studies that collected data on the effects of multivitamin use in more than 400,000 patients found that individuals who took the daily supplement had an increased mortality rate
A separate 2007 study found that women who took multivitamin supplements (vitamin C, E, beta-carotene, selenium, and zinc) increased their risk of developing skin cancer
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