The medical fraternity continues to support multivitamins as a way to guarantee that people get the essential nutrients they aren’t getting from their diet. But there’s not much evidence that people who faithfully toss back a multivitamin every day are any healthier than those who don’t. Some studies have even hinted that taking a multivitamin may actually cause harm. For instance, a study of more than 300,000 men by the US National Cancer Institute found that multivitamin users doubled their risk for prostate cancer. Other research linked the use of a daily multi to a modest increase in the risk for breast and colon cancers.
One concern voiced by sceptics is that taking a multivitamin may expose you to too much folic acid. This B vitamin is essential for pregnant women because it prevents spina bifida and related birth defects. Some studies indicate that folic acid may lower the risk for heart attacks and strokes, too. But getting too much has drawbacks. It can mask signs of anaemia in older people. And some scientists suspect that large amounts may feed cancerous tumours or growths that could become cancer.
The Centre for Science in the Public Interest, a US health watch-dog group, recommends taking a multivitamin, but only every other day to limit your exposure to folic acid (unless you’re pregnant, in which case, daily is still the way to go). The Harvard School of Public Health, meanwhile, argues that taking a daily multi is still the best plan, but if you do, it ’s best to avoid foods – particularly breakfast cereals – fortified with folic acid.
The differences between men and women run deep, right down to the way our bodies use vitami ns and minerals. What ’s more, some of our nutrient needs shift as we age. If you choose to take a mult ivitamin, you may find that one size does not fit all.
All multis contain similar (although not always identical) core vitamins and minerals. But products geared towards men, women or seniors contain slightly different amounts of certain nutrients to reflect the differences in recommended daily allowances between sexes and generations.