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Q: I read that taking my daily multivitamin isn’t actually doing me any good. What’s the real deal?
A: It is estimated that about 50 percent of American adults take a multivitamin, to the tune of a $30-billion-a-year industry. However, three recent studies published in the Annals of International Medicine concluded that multivitamins do not prevent chronic disease. The researchers encouraged consumers not to waste their money, and stated that, especially in well-nourished individuals, supplements are not beneficial—and in some situations can be harmful. In fact, as over the years we have seen scientific evidence of adverse effects of supplemental vitamin E and high-dose vitamin A, among others. Instead of throwing back a daily pill, consumers are advised to focus on eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and low-fat dairy.
Many of the triathletes I counsel in my nutrition practice routinely take in energy bars, cereals and drinks that contain varying amounts of supplemental vitamins, which can easily put you above optimal values. Remember that more is not always better, and taking too much of one vitamin or mineral can decrease absorption or functioning of another. That said, I would encourage you to consider specific supplements in certain situations as applicable; possibly vitamin D in winter months, omega-3 fatty acids during periods of heavy training and injury recovery, or appropriate supplementation for conditions such as Crohn’s disease.
Bottom line: eat balanced, healthy meals first, skip the multivitamin and fully evaluate your athletic, medical and nutritional situation (with professional help as needed) to determine whether you would benefit from any specific supplementation.
Lauren Antonucci, R.D., is a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, three-time Ironman finisher and the founding director of Nutrition Energy in New York City.
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