Do you need a multivitamin?
Comparing supplements with nutrients from food
About 50 percent of adults are taking some kind of dietary supplement. But do you really need a multivitamin?
For most of us, it’s best to get the vitamins and minerals we need from a balanced diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods also provide other important dietary basics like fiber, and phytochemicals such as antioxidants.
In fact, studies show that many vitamin supplements do not prolong life or prevent disease.
Who might need a vitamin supplement?
You might need a supplement if you fall into one of these categories:
Women who are breastfeeding, pregnant, or are considering becoming pregnant
You’ll need more folic acid, calcium, and iron to aid in the healthy development of your baby and help maintain your own health. Talk to your health care provider about taking a prenatal vitamin or vitamin supplements. (Read more about pregnancy and newborn care and nutritional concerns for breastfeeding women.)
Girls and women
At certain points in your life, you may have an increased need for iron, calcium, and vitamin D. These needs can usually be met with proper, balanced nutrition. Talk to your doctor before taking individual vitamin supplements, especially iron, as high doses can be retained in the body and build up to toxic levels.
People 50 and older
You may need extra vitamin B12. For strong bones, be sure to get adequate vitamin D and calcium. The research on other vitamin and mineral supplements has been mixed. Talk to your doctor about your specific needs.
People with special dietary concerns or restrictions
People with food allergies, people who follow a vegetarian diet, or people diagnosed with a specific vitamin or mineral deficiency may benefit from taking supplements. Talk to your doctor about ways to address your specific health needs.
Choosing a supplement
If you need to take a vitamin or mineral supplement, consider these guidelines:
- Don’t expect a supplement to make up for a poor diet.
- High-priced or brand-name vitamins are no better than store or generic brands with the same levels of vitamins and minerals.
- Check expiration dates. Throw away expired supplements, and don’t buy supplements that will expire before you expect to finish the container.
- Tell your doctor and pharmacist if you’re taking any supplements, as they may interact with medications.
Find information on herbal remedies, dietary supplements, vitamins, minerals, and other natural products in our natural medicines database.
How much is too much?
Getting more than the recommended levels of vitamins and minerals can be just as serious as having deficiencies.
Your body will get rid of extra water-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins B and C) in urine. However, extra amounts of minerals and fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K) are stored in the body and can reach toxic levels if they’re consumed in excess over a long period of time.
Also, high doses of certain vitamins and minerals can make other vitamins and minerals less effective and can interfere with some medications.
If you eat a balanced diet and take no more than a daily multivitamin supplement, it will be hard to “overdose.” But consult your doctor before taking additional supplements or individual vitamins or minerals.
Filling nutritional gaps
Try to fill in vitamin and mineral gaps with specific foods, or swap low-nutrient foods for ones richer in the nutrients you’re missing.
Get in the habit of reading food labels to compare the recommended vitamin and mineral levels to what you’re eating.
It may be helpful to keep a food journal (PDF) to record your average intake of vitamins and minerals.
Reviewed by: Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD, June 2014
©2018 Kaiser Permanente