Should I Be Taking Multivitamins?

In the past few months, three studies that argue there is little to no benefit for most people to take multivitamins and that Americans are wasting billions of dollars on these supplements have received widespread media attention. Since then, Eloise Guckelberger, a clinical dietician at Johns Hopkins, has fielded many questions from her patients. Today she is sharing some of the most popular questions with the Johns Hopkins community.


Q: Should I be taking multivitamins?

A: It’s a very complicated issue. Multivitamins aren’t a cure-all for diseases, but they do prevent vitamin deficiencies. We have patients admitted with multiple vitamin deficiencies due to poor diets, often exacerbated by diseases of the digestive process or previous gastrointestinal surgery. The biggest problem is that the studies completed on multivitamins use different combinations of vitamins, different doses of those vitamins, test for different outcomes and are tested in different populations, so there is no way to combine the data and gain a better understanding of the overall efficacy of multivitamins for humans as a whole yet.


Q: If I have a healthy diet, do I need a multivitamin?

A: The average healthy person should be able to not only meet all of their micronutrient requirements by eating a healthy, balanced diet, but do better than any supplement. Some nutrient-rich foods are:

Grains Whole grains such as whole wheat, quinoa, millet and bulgur; bread, rolls and pasta made from whole grains; brown or wild rice; hot or cold cereals made from whole grains and without added sugar
Vegetables All fresh vegetables, especially fresh dark green, red or orange vegetables; peas and beans; low-sodium frozen or canned vegetables prepared without added salt; low-sodium vegetable juices
Fruits All fresh, frozen and dried fruits; canned fruit packed in water or fruit juice without added sugar; fruit juices without added sugar
Milk and Milk Products Low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheeses; frozen desserts made from low-fat milk
Meat, Poultry, Fish and Other Proteins Boiled, baked or grilled lean meat trimmed of fat; skinless poultry; fresh seafood and shellfish; canned seafood packed in water; unsalted nuts and unsalted nut butters; tofu; dried beans and peas; eggs
Fats and Oils Olive, peanut and canola oils and margarine; salad dressing and mayonnaise made from these oils

(From the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics)


Q: What are some things I should look out for if I decide to take a multivitamin?

A: There is no regulation of over-the-counter supplements—vitamins included—so you need to check to see if the supplement actually contains what it says it has. For example, conducted a study of 21 different brands of vitamins and found only 10 to meet the ingredients on their labels. Consumers should look for the "USP Verified" mark on their multivitamins. This indicates that the manufacturer asked the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, a nonprofit, standards-setting organization, to verify the quality, purity and potency of its raw ingredients or finished products. USP maintains a list at


Q: Is there any harm in taking a multivitamin if one is recommended to me?

A: Certain populations absolutely should supplement with a multivitamin. Of the studies available, no harm is demonstrated from providing a supplement meeting up to 100 percent of daily multivitamin infusion (MVI). There are actually a few recent studies where healthy subjects given multivitamins experienced benefits to mood, concentration and anxiety levels. The dangers of nutrient deficiency in pregnant women for example, outweigh the cost of a one-a-day supplement. Also, certain prescription medications can alter a person’s nutrient requirements and/or levels. Examples include gastric acid inhibitors (B12 deficiency), birth control pills (multiple B vitamins as well as some minerals) and drug therapy for tuberculosis (vitamin B6).

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }


From abroad February 13, 2014 at 5:16 pm

I never enjoyed taking vitamins and since I came to the US, people always talked about vitamins, vitamins, vitamins. I always thought that, if you eat right, you don't need supplements. I am glad I follow my heart, because I tried taking them once, they have make me so sick, that I knew it were the vitamins.. as soon as I stopped, all the symptoms, went away. I took them with food, bla, bla, bla, and all the different ways people I knew suggested.
I appreciate this very informative information. People should learn to eat right and to stop depending in astronauts foods.


Monica Perna February 12, 2014 at 2:25 pm

This is an excellent review on MVIs and I think a lot of people will find the information in this review VERY helpful! EXCELLENT job Eloise!


Barbara February 12, 2014 at 12:24 pm

I thought I was getting all I needed from the food groups you displayed. However when taking the multiv. I feel so much better. Perhaps this is mind over matter. When I have not taken them I feel very run down. So I will continue to invest and digest them for now.


Eloise Guckelberger February 12, 2014 at 2:20 pm

I think that is a fine plan, daily multivitamin supplement use with vitamin and mineral doses near the RDA and adequate intake have been reported to be extremely safe across the clinical studies to date. So, if you feel better, I'd keep taking them too!


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