Your Multivitamins are (Probably) Killing You


Fred Flintstone is surely turning in his grave. Once again, the efficacy of multivitamins is up for debate. Do we need them or don’t we?

According to three studies published earlier this month, you could be wasting your money when it comes to that daily vitamin—chewable dinosaurs and all. “Evidence continues to mount that vitamin supplements don’t help most people and can actually cause diseases that people are taking them to prevent, like cancer,” reports NPR.

One of the studies found there to be no benefit in reducing the risk of heart disease or cancer. Another found no prevention against aging, and says NPR, the third study found heart attack sufferers had no protection from experiencing another attack.

But vitamins are big business. NPR reports that it’s a $28 billion industry in the U.S., and as many as 40 percent of Americans regularly take multivitamins.

Earlier this year, the New York Times reported on several case studies involving vitamin A or beta carotene. In those instances, the subjects who received the vitamins experienced a greater risk of developing cancer, not a reduced one. “Then, in 2004, a review of 14 randomized trials…found that the supplemental vitamins A, C, E and beta carotene, and a mineral, selenium, taken to prevent intestinal cancers, actually increased mortality,” notes the Times.

But with all we know about the benefits of nutritious foods rich in vitamins and minerals, why would multivitamins and supplements be bad for us? “[W]hen people take large doses of antioxidants in the form of supplemental vitamins, the balance between free radical production and destruction might tip too much in one direction, causing an unnatural state where the immune system is less able to kill harmful invaders. Researchers call this the antioxidant paradox,” notes the Times.

And the new research concurs. NPR spoke with expert Steven Salzberg, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins who has written about Americans’ love affair with vitamins. “The vast majority of people taking multivitamins and other supplemental vitamins don’t need them,” he said. “I don’t need them, so I stopped.”

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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