The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Ask Megan: Is a One-A-Day Okay?

By Megan Tempest in Food on Dec 15, 2009 4:40PM

Dear Megan,

So what is the straight skinny on taking a daily multi-vitamin? Are they really worth it?


Great question! It depends what you consider “worth it”. A multivitamin does not take the place of eating a well balanced diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. Our bodies are well designed and intended to absorb nutrients from foods, not from a hard synthetic pill. That being said, multivitamin use has become fairly common in the United States. About one-third of U.S. adults take one. This month the American Dietetic Association released their official stance on this subject, stating that additional nutrients from supplements may help some people meet their nutritional needs.

Earlier this year, Italian researchers published results of a study analyzing the effects of multivitamin/mineral supplementation on plasma levels of nutrients. Participants took a daily Centrum multivitamin and were periodically assessed over an average of 9 years. The results showed higher levels of vitamin E, beta-carotene, folate, vitamin B12, and riboflavin status when compared to those taking a placebo pill.

Results of similar study, from researchers at Tufts University in Boston in 2000, aimed to evaluate the effects of multivitamin/mineral supplements on older adults (aged 50-87 years). They found that supplementing a daily multivitamin formulated at about 100% of the daily value reduced the incidence of poor vitamin status in this population and improved their micronutrient levels enough to potentially reduce risk for several chronic diseases

So is a multivitamin “worth it”?

Taking a daily multivitamin may indeed help you fill in the nutritional gaps where your diet is lacking. Doing so is generally safe if the vitamin is taken as directed on the package and the contained nutrients do not exceed 100% of the RDA. Keep in mind that many multivitamins contain far more than the RDA. Contrary to the notion that we simply excrete the excess in our urine, it is possible to absorb excessive amounts of vitamins. The fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) in particular can be stored to toxic levels in adipose tissue. Multivitamins vary widely in price, quality of ingredients, and formulation. Liquid multivitamins, such as those sold by Nature Made or Alive, may be better absorbed than a solid pill.

*Hey folks, this is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of anything written on this website. Thanks!