Multivitamins Under Fire

Why multis still matter
By Dick Benson

The Annals of Internal Medicine recently published an editorial that encourages consumers to avoid taking vitamin and mineral supplements. When summarizing their findings, the authors wrote, “With respect to multivitamins, the studies published in this issue and previous trials indicate no substantial health benefit. This evidence, combined with biological considerations, suggests that any effect, whether beneficial or harmful, is probably small.”

We asked the Natural Products Association (NPA) to comment on this editorial. The NPA is the leading representative of the dietary supplement industry with more than 2,000 members, including suppliers and retailers of vitamins and other dietary supplements. Senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, Cara Welch, PhD, responded with the following comments:

The authors of this editorial base their argument against vitamins and minerals on the premise that most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death. But the authors’ hypothesis is flawed in that multivitamins are not intended to cure chronic disease or prevent death solely on their own. They are designed to address nutrient deficiencies, and to aid in the general health and well-being of consumers. Multivitamins are not meant to serve as the answer to all of life’s ailments; they are, however, an important piece of the puzzle in leading a healthy lifestyle.

Dietary supplements are overwhelmingly safe, as even the studies the authors referenced in this editorial generally found no indication of harm from supplementation outside of some high-dose therapies. In fact, the trials the authors cited even demonstrated benefits in some instances, specifically a reduced risk of cancer in the Physicians’ Health Study II trial. Vitamin and mineral supplements are an excellent source of nutrition for those who don’t eat a complete diet, and consumers should not feel they are wasting their money.

The CEO and executive director of NPA, John Shaw, had this to say:

It’s extremely unfortunate to see this overblown editorial that aims to misinform consumers and attack our industry. It’s no secret that many consumers in this country don’t get the recommended nutrients from their diet alone, and multivitamin and mineral supplements are an affordable alternative. For the medical professionals who authored this piece to claim that the use of supplements is not justified, is, quite frankly, baffling.

NPA is also concerned that these physicians would call for a halt in future prevention trials. It’s flat out irresponsible that they wouldn’t want further studies on preventive care. Consumers should in no way be deterred from continuing to take the products that contribute to their improved health on a daily basis, and we encourage all consumers to discuss their dietary supplement regimen with their healthcare professional.

Whenever I read one of these claims indicating that supplements are a waste and that we can get all the nutrition we need from food, I am amazed. How many Americans do, in fact, get all the nutrition they need from food? According to recent statistics, the number of Americans who receive all the necessary nutrition from food alone is about two percent. It is not easy to eat a healthy diet that contains all your nutritional needs. This is why vitamins are referred to as “dietary supplements”—products you take to supplement your diet to ensure your nutritional needs are met. The supplements you take should be based on your diet and lifestyle, and your supplement needs will change as other personal factors change.

Taking supplements can make a difference in your health. But taking them is not an excuse to live on junk food. When used to supplement your nutritional needs, you will feel better, be less likely to suffer from chronic disease, and reduce your cost of healthcare. In 2014, we at Alternative Medicine will be focusing on the benefits of supplements. If you would like a particular supplement review, please contact me with your requests.


Dick Benson is the editor in chief of Alternative Medicine magazine and can be reached via email at


What to Look for in a Multivitamin

First it is helpful to understand what a multivitamin is intended to do. Vitamins are organic compounds that our bodies need to function normally. Our bodies cannot make vitamins, so we must get them from our diet. The vast majority of American diets do not provide all of the essential vitamins—multivitamins are intended to make up for any micronutrient deficiencies you may have.

The best multivitamins are either plant-based or whole-food based as opposed to synthetic, and come from a reputable manufacturer. As mentioned earlier, multivitamin use is quite safe—the only word of warning would be to caution against taking too much vitamin A. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble and tend to accumulate in the body. Vitamin C and the eight B vitamins are water soluble, so excesses are harmlessly excreted from the body.

The Harvard School of Public Health recommends choosing a multi that offers 100 percent of the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for most vitamins. It is OK to go over 100 percent in the water soluble vitamins (excesses are harmless), and vitamin D: Most people require far more vitamin D than the recommended 600 IUs.