Do I Need a Multivitamin?

The answer may surprise you.

Closeup woman hand with pills medicine tablets and glass of water for picture id1032356844
By August 09, 2021

Trying to stay healthy can feel like a challenge even on the best of days. Balancing exercise and nutrition while trying to succeed at work, have fun with friends and family, and make time for your favorite hobbies — not to mention keeping up with a self-care routine — can feel like a lot. You might be in search of shortcuts to take for your health. On days when I’m not doing the best at being healthy I wonder if something like a multivitamin would solve some of my problems. But then I think, do I really need a daily multivitamin?

Nearly half of U.S. adults do take a vitamin, with approximately one-third taking a comprehensive multivitamin. The supplemental vitamin industry is worth $39 billion and continues to grow; misguided and false information about COVID-19 also led more people to start taking vitamins starting in 2020. Aside from a global pandemic making people anxious to have healthy immune systems, many people standby their daily vitamin intake, but studies don’t necessarily support this habit.

Multivitamins come in tablets, capsules, liquids, and powders and typically contain 26 different vitamins and minerals (such as vitamins C and D, potassium, zinc, calcium, and iron) and usually provide 100% of the recommended daily allowance of these elements. While these nutrients are necessary and some groups are more in need of the supplemental boost than others, for most people who eat a healthful diet, taking a multivitamin isn’t needed. In fact, Johns Hopkins nutrition experts say the money people pay for multivitamins might be better spent on nutrient-packed foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.

Who Should Take a Multivitamin

People who are at a higher risk for nutrient deficiency and should consider supplementing their diets with a multivitamin include:

  • Those who are of an older age

  • Those who are pregnant

  • Those who have malabsorption conditions (such as diseases like celiac, ulcerative colitis, cystic fibrosis, or alcoholism, or following surgery that removes parts of digestive organs)

  • Those who are on certain medications (like diuretics, proton pump inhibitors, levodopa, and carbidopa)

  • Those who are following a specific diet that limits nutrient intake

Outside of these groups, most people are capable of consuming the recommended dose of vitamins and minerals through healthy eating habits. Vitamin D is an exception, as few foods contain it naturally; for people who have limited sun exposure a vitamin D supplement can be more useful than an overall multivitamin.

Like with vitamin D, if you’re experiencing a specific lack of a certain vitamin or mineral — like needing additional calcium to help with osteoporosis or needing extra iron to help with iron-deficiency anemia — those needs can be better addressed with individual nutrients instead of a comprehensive multivitamin. If your goal is just to be as generally healthy as possible, eating a balanced diet is all you should need.

Whether you’re just interested in exploring a multivitamin or experiencing health issues you think a multivitamin would assist with, talk to a dietician or your doctor about your diet and your needs in order to find out the best route for you.

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