I am often asked by my patients whether I think they should take a multivitamin. The quick answer is "yes" but I think it's important to understand why. If we aim to take a multivitamin with the expectation of boundless energy, superhuman protection from everyday ailments, or reversal of our natural aging process -- well, we are certain to be disappointed. If we take multivitamins and other supplements as a means to support our body's natural function, to address specific deficiencies, or to alter a specific disease process -- then multivitamins and supplements can be extremely beneficial indeed.
When faced with the staggering array of nutritional supplement choices available today, the first thought that comes to mind may be, "Why bother?" Conventional wisdom has long held that healthy people who "eat well" need not bother with the fuss or expense of nutritional supplementation.
Over time, this mindset is changing. In fact, a June 2002 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association recommended a daily multivitamin for adults. Frankly, very few of us actually "eat well" enough to truly take in the optimum daily amounts of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, phytonutrients and essential fatty acids needed for optimum health and vitality.
For example, many of us consume much less than the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Studies show that a high percentage of adults and children in the United States and other developed countries take in less than the minimum daily allowance of 10 or more essential nutrients. These nutrients are important for the dietary management of the body's structure and optimum functioning of its systems. In short, we need nutrients for good health!
In today's fast-paced society, many succumb to fast food and frequent quick, incomplete meals filled with fat, sugar, preservatives and additives with little nutritional value. Families are eating out more and cooking at home less. Even in these tough economic times, fast-food franchises are still showing significant profits as people turn to their low-cost (and low-nutrition) menu items more and more.
Sadly, even the most conscientious diet today may not be enough for adequate nutrition. After generations of farming, our soil is now more depleted of much needed nutrients. In addition, foods are shipped long distances so that the produce that reaches our table is less nutritious. Food additives, fat and sugar substitutes, and food processing have worsened the problem. More people are overweight and suffering from food sensitivities than ever before.
Despite vigorous claims to the contrary, there is a lack of good quality, unbiased scientific studies showing that taking multivitamins is linked with prolonged life, prevention of disease, and other parameters that we might hope to associate with vitamins.
However, we do know that certain vitamins and supplements have dramatic impact on our bodies. Niacin (Vitamin B3) and Omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. fish oil) are used by physicians regularly to help manage cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Other B-complex vitamins are useful in reducing homocysteine, a toxic metabolic by-product that can increase the risk of vascular disease. These examples illustrate the significant impact that vitamins can have on our physiology.
While we wait on further studies looking at the benefits of nutritional supplementation in the overall population, it seems intuitive that taking a multivitamin is one way to help ensure that we have an adequate supply of nutrients for our bodies to function at their best.
If you are considering whether you need supplements or not, consider this quote from Dr. Mark Hyman, author of the book "The Ultramind Solution: Fix Your Broken Brain By Healing Your Body First" (Scribner, 2008). Dr. Hyman writes that if people "eat wild, fresh, organic, local, non-genetically modified food grown in virgin mineral- and nutrient-rich soils that has not been transported across vast distances and stored for months before being eaten ... and work and live outside, breathe only fresh unpolluted air, drink only pure, clean water, sleep nine hours a night, move their bodies every day, and are free from chronic stressors and exposure to environmental toxins" ... then perhaps they might not need supplements!
I recommend a good quality multivitamin manufactured to the same standards as medicines. High-quality supplements are designed to effectively dissolve in the intestinal tract and the source of the nutrients in the supplements are thoroughly documented. High-quality vitamins and supplements are widely available from a variety of sources. Your doctor, health care provider or nutritional consultant can recommend a good quality multivitamin. They can also help counsel you about the benefits of other supplements as well.
Dr. Phillip Allen is a board certified otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeon who has practiced in Albany since 2002. As a natural outgrowth to his expanding interest in nutrition, fitness and healthy aging, Dr. Allen opened RestoreFit Clinic for men in 2008.