Review: Multivitamin and mineral supplements have possible modest benefits and ‘minimal, if any, risk’

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Review: Multivitamin and mineral supplements have possible modest benefits and ‘minimal, if any, risk’
With many Americans failing to meet recommended intakes of select nutrients, multivitamin and mineral supplements could be part of the solution, and the potential benefits outweigh any risk, says a new review.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) cited four nutrients of concern in the general American population: calcium, fiber, potassium, and vitamin D. Other nutrients such as folic acid, iron, and vitamin B12 are of concern in specific populations.

While the US Preventive Services Task Force​ recently stated that there was no rationale to recommend for or against multivitamins and minerals (MVM) for the primary prevention of CVD or cancer, this is no way should take away from the utility of the supplements to fill ‘relatively small but critical nutritional gaps’.

“Current data suggest minimal, if any, risk associated with MVM preparations containing 10 or more vitamins and minerals at recommended daily intake levels in healthy people and a possibility of modest benefits that include a reduced risk of cancer and nuclear cataract, for a relatively low financial cost,” ​concluded a new review in the Nutrition Journal​.

The review was authored by Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, a freelance writer and nutrition consultant. Funding for the review was provided by Pfizer, the company behind the Centrum brand of multivitamins.

Part of the solution

Commenting on the study’s findings, Andrea Wong, PhD, VP of scientific & regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition, said that the review reaffirms the importance of the multivitamin in helping people to ensure adequate nutrition.

“We know that a well-balanced, healthy diet is important for optimal health, but, as government data show us, our population is falling short in some essential nutrients. This is a serious issue for which a multivitamin can serve as part of the solution,” ​said Dr Wong.

“This review also addresses encouraging research showing the potential health benefits of the multivitamin beyond its main role. However, it is important that we don’t lose sight of the multivitamin’s primary function, which is to supplement the diet and fill nutrient gaps, and manage our expectations for it use in isolation for chronic disease prevention.”


In her new review Ward states: “Even when a diet is well planned, it is not always possible for most people to choose foods containing the recommended amounts of all essential micronutrients, and chronic, relatively minor nutrient shortfalls can cause health problems.

“The role of MVMs also needs to be considered in the context of macro-nutrient consumption (carbohydrates, protein, and fats) and its effects on digestion, absorption, and bioavailability of vitamins and minerals, as well as the effect of the balance of macro-nutrient intake on metabolism and the need for different vitamins and minerals.

“While MVM supplements cannot replace eating adequate amounts of a variety of foods, they may be particularly beneficial to people who have poor nutrition for a variety of reasons, including inadequate intake of foods from all the food groups, advanced age, and chronic illness.”

Multivitamin popularity

Multivitamins, which have been described as “the cheapest health insurance a person will ever buy”​,  are the most commonly used dietary supplement, according to survey data.

Results of the 2013 Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) Consume Survey on Dietary Supplements​ showed that 52% of US adults reported to having taken a multivitamin and mineral in the past 12 months, followed by vitamin D (20%), omega-3/fish oil (19%), calcium (18%), and vitamin C (17%).

Overall health and wellness benefits is the most cited reason for taking supplements (selected by 54% of supplement users overall). This was followed by ‘filling gaps in nutrition’ (36%), and heart health (32%).

Source: Nutrition Journal
2014, 13​:72, doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-13-72
“Addressing nutritional gaps with multivitamin and mineral supplements”
Author: E. Ward

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