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Are Daily Multivitamins Really Helpful?

Your mom may have always recommended that you take a daily multivitamin, but do you?  And whether you do or don't, do you know why this may be helpful?  Conventional wisdom points to evidence that the average American diet is lacking in several important vitamins and nutrients, so it makes sense that taking a multivitamin might compensate for some of these deficiencies.  In addition, many women suffer from iron deficiency anemia as a result of heavy monthly menstrual periods; vitamins containing iron are particularly helpful for them.  Most daily multivitamins now contain 400 micrograms of folic acid, the daily amount recommended for any women who might become pregnant in order to prevent certain neurologic birth defects. 

A new finding about the value of daily multivitamins comes from a study published this year in the Annals of Internal Medicine which concluded that taking a daily multivitamin can reduce the incidence of infections.  Researchers studied 130 adults for 1 year.  Half were given multivitamins and half were given placebos.  All were asked to report any infectious symptoms-including cough, cold, flu, bladder or stomach symptoms-and days lost from work.  Remarkably, 73% of the adults taking placebo reported infectious symptoms compared to only 43% of those taking multivitamins.  Absenteeism rates compared as favorably:  57% of those not taking vitamins lost days from work compared to only 21% of those taking supplements.  Not surprisingly, the patients who benefited the most were those with Type 2 diabetes:  93% of those taking placebos had infectious symptoms versus only 17% of those who took vitamins.  The researchers hypothesized that diabetics may have more subclinical micronutrient deficiencies which may explain their greater risk of infection compared with non-diabetic individuals. 

Women should be aware, however, that the average multi-vitamin doesn't contain everything you need from a supplement.  For example, the average American woman does not get an adequate calcium intake; a multivitamin may give you a small amount of calcium, but nowhere near the 1,200 mg RDA for a premenopausal, non-nursing woman.

Created: 10/22/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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