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Hard pill to swallow — the truth behind multivitamins

They are redundant, so focus on a healthy diet instead
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AMBIKA MAHARAJ/THE VARSITY
AMBIKA MAHARAJ/THE VARSITY

In case you haven’t taken a stroll through your local pharmacy or grocery store in the past few decades, the multivitamin industry is huge. In 2020, the total value of the industry is a staggering 478.4 million USD. Clearly, the consumer market for multivitamins is massive. 

But, what are multivitamins, really? Before we can discuss the true bodily impact of them, we should first understand what we mean by multivitamins.

Traditionally, when you purchase supplemental multivitamins, be it from Centrum, Jamieson, or Kirkland, you’re buying capsules with varying amounts of multivitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids. These supplements are traditionally taken by individuals to promote aspects of their health. For example, people might take multivitamins to try to reduce their risk of heart disease or to prevent cognitive decline.

However, for the most part, these promises are empty. In an article posted on the U of T Faculty of Medicine website, Deborah O’Connor, a nutrition professor at U of T, wrote that our modern multivitamins are simply “leftovers” of a different time when our diets and deficiencies were much different. O’Connor went on to discuss how the multivitamins we take now may be redundant to the diet of the average person and neglect to fill the dietary holes we currently do have. 

So, do multivitamins actually improve our health? The jury is still out. Specific groups of people could indeed benefit from particular supplements; for example, the elderly and those who follow vegetarian-based diets are susceptible to vitamin B12 deficiency. As a result, they may stand to benefit from adding a multivitamin supplement to their existing diet. However, the diet of an average, healthy person will not be enhanced by a multivitamin. 

In fact, it’s been proven: according to John Hopkins Medicine, studies show that multivitamins did not reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, or mental decline. A study of heart attack survivors who were either on a placebo or high doses of multivitamins showed similar rates of later heart attacks, heart surgeries, and death. Medical professionals instead recommend following a healthy diet, rather than supplements. 

Larry Appel, Director of the Johns Hopkins Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology and Clinical Research, has said that consuming a diet containing protein sources such as fish and chicken, plenty of produce such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy is enough to maintain your health instead of multivitamins. 

In short, the next time you’re at the grocery store, maybe buy the bundle of carrots instead of the bottle of multivitamins; you’ll save yourself time and money in the long run.