Should We Take a Multivitamin?

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Are Multivitamins Just a Waste of Money?

About one in three Americans take a multivitamin. Is that helpful, harmful, or just a harmless waste of money? In 2011, the Iowa Women’s Health Study reported that multivitamin use was associated with a higher risk of total mortality, meaning that women who took a multivitamin appeared to be paying to live shorter lives. But this was just an observational study—researchers didn’t split women up into two groups and put half on multivitamins to see who lived longer. All they did was follow a large population of women over time, and found that those that happened to be taking multivitamins were more likely to die. But maybe they were taking multivitamins because they were sick. The researchers didn’t find any evidence of that, but ideally we’d have a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial, where thousands were followed for over a decade, with half given a multivitamin and half a placebo. That’s what we got the following year in 2012 with the Harvard Physicians’ Study II. And after a decade, the researchers found no effect on heart attack, stroke, or mortality.

The accompanying editorial concluded that multivitamins are a distraction from effective cardiovascular disease prevention. The message needs to remain simple and focused: heart disease can be largely prevented by healthy lifestyle changes.

The researchers did, however, find that for men with a history of cancer, the multivitamin appeared to be protective against getting cancer again, though there was no significant difference in cancer mortality or cancer protection in those who’ve never had cancer before. Still, that’s pretty exciting. It is just one study, though. Ideally we’d have maybe 20 of these placebo-controlled trials and then compile all the results together. That’s what we got in 2013—a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials that analyzed twenty-one trials and more than 90,000 individuals. The analysis found no influence on mortality either way. Some found more cancer mortality, some found less cancer mortality, but all in all it was a wash.

And that was heralded as good news. After the Iowa Women’s Health Study came out we were worried multivitamins could be harming millions of people, but instead they don’t appear to have much effect either way. The accompanying editorial asked whether meta-analyses trump observational studies. The Iowa Women’s Health Study followed tens of thousands of women for nearly 20 years. What if we put all the studies together, the big observational studies along with the experimental trials? And that’s what we got in December 2013. The review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, highlighted in my video, Should We Take a Multivitamin? found that multivitamins appear to offer no consistent evidence of benefit for heart disease, cancer, or living longer.

But aren’t vitamins and minerals good for us? One explanation for this result could be that our bodies are so complex that the effects of supplementing with only one or two components is generally ineffective or actually does harm. Maybe we should get our nutrients in the way nature intended, in food.

The accompanying editorial to the December 2013 review concluded that enough is enough. We should stop wasting our money on vitamin and mineral supplements. Americans spend billions on vitamin and mineral supplements. A better investment in health would be eating more fruits and vegetables. Imagine if instead we spent those billions on broccoli?

I’ve previously addressed multivitamins in my videos Are Multivitamins Good For You? and Multivitamin Supplements and Breast Cancer (with a follow-up in my Q&A Is multivitamin use really associated to an increased risk of breast cancer?). I also touched on potential risks in Dietary Theory of Alzheimer’s.

With the exception of vitamins D and B12 (Vitamin Supplements Worth Taking), we should strive to get our nutrients from produce, not pills.

What about fish oil supplements? Check out Is Fish Oil Just Snake Oil?

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

75 responses to “Are Multivitamins Just a Waste of Money?

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  1. I think that a *good* multivitamin is more cost-effective for vegetarians and vegans than taking separate vitamin B12 & D supplements – one pill is easy to remember; studies have routinely demonstrated that medication compliance / adherence drops rapidly as the number of required pills and permutations rises.

    1. Yes but two vitamins is easy to remember. Vitamins B12 and D are quite inexpensive too. Plus the message here is that multivitamins might do more harm than good. We didn’t evolve taking in large doses of a few select vitamins and minerals. There are literally thousands of compounds in foods that work together in out bodies like a symphony. If the violin starts overtaking the rest of the instruments then the music falls apart. T. Colin Campbell’s book Whole discusses this in great detail. Worth a read.

    2. A multivitamin and mineral supplement is convenient and cost-effective, but, like most things in life, it’s a compromise. Most multivitamins have a lot of pre-formed vitamin A, which is not water soluble and therefore can’t be excreted from the body. The body can’t store it either, meaning it could be poisonous. The better way to get vitamin A is as beta-carotene. Even that is better to get from food. (In smokers, admittedly a high-risk group, supplemental beta-carotene has been shown to increase lung-cancer risk.) For vitamin E, most multivitamin products have racemic alpha-tocopherol. Naturally occurring vitamin E is a family of compounds, all members of which are chiral and only one enantiomer of each occurs in nature, so taking alpha-tocopherol doesn’t meed the body’s need of vitamin E. A typical multivitamin contains 100% RDA of folic acid. In the US refined grains are fortified with folic acid. (Unrefined ones naturally contain folic acid.) So, taking a multivitamin can result in folic acid overdose. A typical multivitamin doesn’t have enough vitamin D. The other issue is trace minerals: multivitamins typically have either too much trace minerals or too little, both of which could be dangerous. I used to take a multi but now take carefully selected individual nutrients.

  2. “multivitamins are a distraction from effective cardiovascular disease prevention”: It’s important to keep that in mind!

    The danger of a non targeted supplementaton like multivitamins is that it gives a false sens of security, and so often mislead away from a healthy diet. Pills are so convenient! It’s an easy excuse for not going to the market, not cooking, save time, save energy, and so on…

  3. Is this the Centrum study? That’s not a multivitamin it’s synthetic garbage :-). Diet and lifestyle is paramount to good health but investing in a supplement that is preferably food based as an added layer of protection should not be discouraged especially in an era when our soils and subsequently foods are depleted.

    1. Yes, supplement quality is so important. It sounds like this article is just about multivitamins, but what about minerals? I think for those who eschew animal foods, getting sufficient absorbable zinc, selenium and iron (women) can often be a challenge.

      1. A handful of pumpkin seeds for zinc; a couple of brazil nuts for selenium; and lots of dark green leafy vegetables like kale or spinach for iron. These foods also have an abundance of phytonutrients not found in pills. It needn’t be as much of a challenge as an adventure in eating more variety than ever before.

    2. One gets what they pay for. If you buy a cheap vitamin that is made from synthetic vitamins and minerals and won’t dissolve in a cup of vinegar for days, its likely to have little or no impact. However, I you invest in a plant-based vitamin made from whole plant foods that does dissolve in vinegar in minutes, then what would the results be. Doing research that is super broad and general is much different that specifically listing which company and vitamins are being researched. Those in the vitamin business would agree that there is lots of crap on the market, but that does not mean its all crap. Many vitamin takers believe in eating a whole food plant based diet as well. Most Americans for sure, eat a crummy diet, many of them are not even aware its crummy, so therefore a quality plant-based vitamin may be of assistance. Lets just end with this, a Yugo is a car, and so is a Lexus, the comparison ends right there. There is a vast difference between the two and comparing safety, quality, driver satisfaction and beyond in almost every thinkable category there is no comparison. Writing any kind of research that begs them into the same pot greatly diminishes what a quality manufacturer actual produces. I could be wrong but I believe similar thinking applies to the ‘vitamin’ category as well.

  4. There are good and bad multi-vitamins and I would like to know what kind of vitamins were used in the study. Most OTC vitamins don’t work, and I know that for a fact! You have to take multi-vitamins that are pharmaceutical graded and you have to take them twice a day, with food, to be absorbed properly.. One-a-day vitamins will never work since the potent vitamin C and all of the B-Complexes will be flushed out of your body after about 8-10 hours since they are water solvable. Then free-radicals take over your healthy cells One of the main purposes of taking multi-vitamins is to increase your levels of antioxidants. When your body is saturated with antioxidants, and you have reduced your free-radical gap (range) to a minimum, you have removed the gap where infections, inflammations, and abnormal cell damage happens. I use a Biophotonic scanner, using Raman Spectroscopy, to measure the carotenoid molecules in your skin. The carotenoid is a bio-marker for overall antioxidant protection, and the denser the molecules, the better your cellular health (immune system) is. I have scanned vegans, vegetarians etc, and even if they score higher than average, they still have a free-radical gap and have ways to go to before their body is saturated with antioxidants. This scanner was developed by University in Utah and is a scientifically sound and protected device. Lester Packard, one of the most acknowledged antioxidant specialist, recommends that everyone should get scanned, increase their score to the max, and maintain their max number to stay healthy. I have eating a healthy, plant-protein diet and also taken supplements that WORKS, and have not been sick in the last five years I have been doing this.

    1. Interesting! What supplements have worked to reduce your free-radical gap using Raman Spectroscopy? In “The Antioxidant Miracle” Dr. Lester Packer recommends Lipoic acid, CoQ10, Vitamins E and C. What new ones has he recommended over the last 16 years since the book was published?

    2. Thanks for sharing, i did wonder why my doctor prescribed me a food supplement three times as well as vitamins. He said I was starting to have a heart disease. I hadn’t followed it, but once I became very tired and had to remember what he said hoping he was right and did give myself twice a day of multi-vitamin and i really did feel better. Thanks for sharing this insight. Although I don’t follow taking it twice a day still but in cases of fatigue I now know I should.

  5. Unfortunately, Dr. Greger has chosen to ignore the plethora of positive studies regarding supplementation. As such, though I agree with eating well wholeheartedly (though not exclusively plant based), I choose to unsubscribe as my needs are not being met due to doctor bias.

    1. I believe Dr Greger (research) pretty must is sticking with B12 and vitamins D depending on how close you live to the equator. Do you have other studies that demonstrate that supplements are needed?

    2. Ira, please follow through and post links to a few of those studies. But don’t shoot the messenger—Dr. Greger is just reporting what’s out there. He does feel supplementation of vitamins D and B12 can be a positive thing.

  6. First of all: Isolated nutrients can never be as beneficial as those absorbed from food with their associated co-factors.

    “The whole is more than the sum of their parts.”

    And: How uneducated and incompetent or ignorant, but in any way dilettante must “scientists” be if they do not even distinguish between regular synthetic-, active synthetic- and whole-food vitamins???!!!

    It´s just like the wide spread ignorance of the difference of Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) or the Daily Value (DV), which are just the daily intake levels of nutrients that are considered to be sufficient to meet the requirements of 97–98% of healthy individuals, which means the minima required, so humans who are not under stress do not suffer from a deficiency, which is far from the optimum levels – or the ignorance that tiny amounts of essential trace elements can make the difference of health or illness or even death.

    Most are one-track specialists, and thus little more than amateurs – just like the politicians, the voters, or those who invest their money in funds and corporations, without knowing the devastating effects of their activities on the environments, humans and the entire society, humankind.

  7. Until the FDA regulates Vitamins like they do medications I will not take a vitamin pill. I take only those not provided in whole foods like D3.

  8. Maybe they are just the people who think the easy out of good nutrition is by taking a pill. I thought that eating fish was the way to get B12 and Vit D, but I am now recovering from mercury poisoning.

  9. Iodine (actually iodide), in addition to vitamins B-12 and and D, is not reliably found in most plant foods, with the exception of sea vegetables, and should be included in a discussion of nutrients that may need to be gotten through supplementation or food fortification for vegans. Even a sheet of nori delivers only about 1/3 of the RDA for iodine. And the salt used by the food industry is typically not iodized. A high quality multi-vitamin/mineral supplement will include all three.

      1. I read it and he says iodine needs to be supplemented for persons NOT consuming sea vegetables. He does say that Kelp has too much iodine, but why can’t people eat but a pinch of it. My diet is still not perfect and I do consume iodized salt.

    1. The book “Vegan for Life” recommends iodine supplementation because of the inconsistent quantities in sea vegetables. I discovered that I may have a deficiency.

      1. Yes, iodine should be a concern because most people get from iodized salt. But what happens if you eat neither table salt or sea weed? Heck, it’s not even included in most multi-vitamins.

  10. In an ideal world, I believe what Dr. Greger proposes in the way of getting most all nutrients from foods would be best. Furthermore, as a graduate of the program that Dr. Colin Campbell did in cooperation with Cornell University, I am also an advocate of a more holistic approach to nutrition, as opposed to the reductionist method of isolating individual micronutrients. However, we live in a world where our food, our environment, and the ability of our bodies to assimilate nutrition have all, for various reasons, been compromised, amounting to a net decrease in assimilated nutrients. We could argue we would all be better off without electricity because it isn’t natural, and if we could manage to get up at dawn to work and be in bed early, it might arguably be healthier. Unfortunately, it’s not the way most of us live. From my own experience, at this point I believe the addition of some basic vitamins and minerals through non-synthetic, whole food-based supplements can be valuable for many people. This is especially true as people age, and their abilities to absorb nutrients from the food declines. Of course, I believe that a good and balanced diet based on organic plant-based food is a precursor for health, and supplements cannot compensate for diets that create disease rather than health. However, I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes to whole-food supplements, and the good they may do to help rectify possible nutritional shortcomings that may exist for people eating even the most well-planned plant-based diet.

      1. Interesting study, although again, it is the often done comparison of whole foods vs supplement. We know there are many co-factors in whole foods that isolated nutrients are missing, hence their lack of bioavailability. What though if we use supplements for exactly what their name suggests; to supplement our diet together with those foods that contain the co-factors? Obviously, when it comes to nutrients, the shotgun approach, or more is better approach, isn’t good. However, what if a person is eating a very balanced whole food, plant-based diet, and tests still show deficiencies in certain nutrients? Or what if their bodies, skin, nail, hair, etc., would indicate some dietary deficiency? Should we ignore it? Again, as a grad of Colin Campbell’s program with Cornell, I am definitely not lining up on the reductionist side of the fence. However, I wonder if we sometimes need to be realistic about the fact that compromised foods and compromised bodies often result in less than ideal assimilation of nutrients.

        1. If somebody is eating a complete WFPB diet and still presents with nutrient deficiencies, then this is a definite medical condition and should be treated as such, including therapeutic intake of concentrated nutrients. But this is treatment for a specific condition, not a general admonition for everybody. In addition, the person’s doctor should be trying to determine why with adequate dietary levels, they are still deficient. If that can be found and addressed, perhaps the person could stop supplement therapy and just go back to diet alone. Somebody who has adequate nutrient balance from diet alone does not need take even more nutrients in concentrated form.

    1. I made this point once with Jeff Novick on one of his FB posting. I wasn’t de-friended but I was no longer allowed to post. I did not make the point in the form of a statement, but rather in the form of a question. No further commentary allowed. I thought it was not the best way to have an engaging conversation surrounding a topic with many differing opinions. Allow the contrary opinion to remain and engage the counter argument. JHM: Your points are strong and valid! Thanks for this post.

      1. @Clint Stevens, Fortunately this forum seems a bit more progressive; there are numerous comments from people suggesting supplementation should be considered when needed. Cheers!

  11. I’m trying to be a vegan but people around me always say plants are just
    as “bad” because they contain pesticides and all. Can anyone please
    tell me how to eat fruits/veggies safely? What would happen if I eat
    those “pesticides”? So right now I’m thinking: Meat : cause cancer more
    rapidly, contains substances that somehow don’t “fit” in us. Plants:
    pesticides and viruses. Any advice please? Many Thanks!

    1. It is always a good idea to avoid persistent organic pollutants but the “devil is in the details” and it is a matter of context. The leading sources are diary, meat and fish see… and …. Of course other non pesticide contaminants need to be worried about such cadmium, lead and arsenic… Leading source of arsenic intake is chicken… Sometimes these chemicals come from surprising sources see… It is very complicated but clearly eating fruits, veggies, starches and legumes exposes us to less chemicals which can harm us. You can find many other video’s and studies to show how to minimize your exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. As far as viruses we aren’t susceptible to plant viruses but we can get exposure to bacteria and viruses for more on this subject you might want to view some of the 14 videos relating to “viral infection”…. the most recent is So refer those “people around you” to to explore the relative dangers of fruits/veggies to dairy, meats and fish. Good luck on your journey to eat healthier and stay tuned to for the latest science and to reinforce your efforts to eat healthier.

    2. You want to make sure to buy organic for anything without a peel. There are a ton of lists if you do a google search about which foods are most important to get organic and others you could skimp on if you are concerned about cost. (I do a lot of smoothies with organic berries and spinach because they are cheaper frozen and generally just as nutritious. I mean, who can afford organic blueberries?!). Berries, anything soy, leafy greens, apples, etc. you def want to get organic, whereas foods like avocado, bananas, pineapple, are less important because of their skin. I’ve used crop shares to save money on fruits and veggies. Check out some of these:, Bear in mind that you are getting FAR more toxins eating meat, dairy, and fish.

      1. Thank you very much! anyway I always wonder why people around me eat cheap “crap” and then pay so much for medical expenses!

    3. Yeni: Dr. Forrester’s response was really excellent and to the point. The fact is, if someone is worried about pesticides and other contaminants, they would do well to get rid of the meat/fish, dairy and eggs.

      I’ll just add one tiny bit more info to help put the topic into perspective: What happens if you eat plants that are not organic? Is that really bad? Here’s a quote from one on Dr. Greger’s blog posts:

      “A new study calculated that if half the U.S. population ate just one more serving of conventional fruits and vegetables, 20,000 cases of cancer could be prevented. At the same time the added pesticide consumption could cause up to 10 extra cancer cases. So by eating conventional produce we may get a tiny bump in cancer risk, but that’s more than compensated by the dramatic drop in risk that accompanies whole food plant consumption. Even if all we had to eat was the most contaminated produce the benefits would far outweigh any risks.”


      Hope that helps.

  12. I have read that with vitamins it’s all about getting a good brand, because it make a huge difference where things are sourced from and how the minerals are extracted. Thoughts?

  13. I take a daily multivitamin only for the reason that I feel that it is an inexpensive way I can get the trace and rare earth minerals that are lacking in most farm-factory grown foods.

  14. All true… Vitamin supplements probably do not do much (if anything) to protect against heart disease, diabetes and the like. But that should not surprise anyone – because most chronic diseases are not caused by vitamin deficiencies.

    But, vitamins DO help in a myriad of other ways that are difficult to quantify.

    For myself, I eat a healthy whole food plant based diet. But when I tracked the micro nutrients from what I was eating on an IPhone app, I found that my intake was deficient in several vitamins and minerals. And then, when my physician tested my blood for one of them (vitamin D) I found that I was actually slightly deficient in it.

    So, even though I eat a supposedly very healthy diet, I find that I need to take a multivitamin

    1. How does being slight deficient in one vitamin mean that taking a multi vitamin is the answer?

      Also Vitamin D is unique in that’s our body makes it from sunshine and cholesterol. Given frequent short exposure to adequate UV light over a good percentage of your body, your body makes all the vitamin D it requires. Food, animal or plant, has almost no vitamin D. If the label shows that a food has vitamin D, it is because A vitamin D pill was basically ground up and added. Most Americans live where we risk frostbite if we tried getting sun during the winter even if the UV level were adequate, which it is not. So supplementation of vitamin D is just the price we must pay for living clothed indoors at high latitudes rather than naked in the sun near the equator.

      1. There was one confirmed by blood test. There were several more where my intake was significantly below the RDA but since there has been no blood test I can only assume that I have acdefiviency

        And, by the way, my vitamin D was tested in the summer time and, despite the fact that I spent hours each day in the sun without sunscreen, it was still deficient.

  15. Hmm, I thought we were supposed to be taking omega 3 as well (especially vegans) because it’s difficult to get enough out of flax or walnuts, etc. every day. Right now I take vitamin D (because I had it tested and it was low and I live in the north) and omega 3 every other day or so.

  16. I’m sure sorry that there is a scientific consensus that vitamins are a waste of money. Maybe people aren’t taking enough.

    Dr. Abram Hoffer was treating people with Orthomolecular therapy for over 50 years before his death in 2009. He gave thousands of people (both cancer and schizophrenia) hope and his work lives on with biochemists like William J. Walsh who wrote “Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain”

    Vitamin therapy is an alternative therapy now, like dietary intervention is. The two have a lot of power and might have power together.

    In An Interview with Abram Hoffer


    Official Journal of the International Society for Orthomolecular Medicine
    Volume 24 3rd & 4th Quarter 2009 A. SAUL, Ph.D.
    Page 122

    ““How dangerous is niacin therapy?” I answer them, “You are going to live a lot longer. Is that a problem for you? …I personally have been on 1,500 to 6,000 mg daily since 1955. The biggest danger of taking niacin is that you live longer. One of my patients is 112. She does cross country skiing and has been on niacin for 42 years.” (Saul, 124) He lived to be over 90 and personally made this observation among his thousands of patients, to say nothing of those he treated and heard about with formerly mainstream niacin for heart disease.

    1. What a great article. Thank you, Matthew. These were of particular interest.

      Saul: “Yet it turns out that most of the negative reports are based on research that used ineffectively low doses of vitamins.”
      Hoffer: “I agree. I could also spend millions to prove that the small amounts of these nutrients will not prevent car accidents.
      Who is funding all these silly studies? No orthomolecular physician ever claimed that giving 200 IU of vitamin E and 500 mg of C cured anything. Perhaps you should write a paper with tongue in cheek in which you announce, “Antibiotics Do Not Cure Infection”. Then, report somewhere hidden in the paper that you only gave them 200 or even 20,000 IU of a drug that requires doses of one million or more.”

      Saul: “Vitamins have also been attacked with allegations that they are somehow actually dangerous.”
      Hoffer: “I am really impressed with the concern some scientists share over those “dangerous” vitamins. I wish they were as worried over those dangerous poisons called drugs. Each bottle of pills should have a poison label with skull and crossbones, and the word “poison” in large letters.”

      1. Thank you for reading the article so carefully! Some antibiotics can be under prescribed and it is strange that anti-depressants are now meant to carry a black box label for depression for teenagers. I am so happy to hear that every doctor except for one who saw Dr. Hoffer’s practice decided to use orthomolecular medicine in their profession. Orthomolecular medicine has been discredited on the grounds that people who take niacin and get better are told retrospectively that they just have pellagra. Dr. Hoffra is one of the greatest doctors in the world for curing so many people with pellagra, then. Wouldn’t it be great if heart disease was just pellagra? All the symptoms can be treated with high doses of Niacin, as has been done before statins. Perhaps long term heart disease patients should stick to it, he said that they live longer.
        I am glad Dr. Hoffer caught so many cases of pellagra and has been able to cure it in several different illnesses. People who stay on Niacin might take more of their statins, hearing that they could have pellagra and heart disease. Dr. Hoffer maybe had treated a lot of people who had pellagra and mental illnesses. If the disease responds to one gram of Niacin a day, at least you’ll know it’s just pellagra.

        1. Thank you for another good read. That article on niacin is very much appreciated. I believe a WFPB diet and healthy lifestyle can help the body heal. But if one has really abused the body in the younger years I think there are nutrients needed to repair the damage that one isn’t going to get just in healthy food. Pellagra, hmmmm. lol.

  17. Regarding getting all multivitamins through fruits and vegetables – I’ve heard over and over that fruit is not to be eaten within 30-60 minutes of eating vegetables. In some NF videos on antioxidants it is recommend to take berries with meals. Does that mean fruit can be eaten together with vegetables?

  18. I liked the article because it was simple and concise. I look forward to the day when you’ll be able to do a blood test using your smart phone. Then you’ll know exactly what nutrients you need – hourly.

  19. I agree Eric. And many vegans have marginal intakes of iodine, selenium, iron (women) and zinc (men), so have a small amount of these in a multi is probably a good idea.

  20. And since when were multivitamins supposed to protect against cardiovascular disease? They help protect against nutrient deficiencies!

  21. Multivitamins will be cost effective if there are deficiencies of those vitamins. If there are no defiencies of the vitamins, they are a waste of money, and may even be harmful. There are various studies showing this, even though it is plain common sense..

  22. REPOSTING QUESTION by Nicholas: Re: Does antioxidant intake matter for cancer. Hello and thank you for allowing me to ask you about this. You have a negative view of dietary supplements. Can you be so sure that all of them have little or no effect? I was a smoker for almost 40 years, the last 20 of these a heavy smoker. I was diagnosed with a Paranoid Schizophrenia and the use of tobacco helped deal with this unfortunate turn of events. Obviously, I have always been worried about developing cancer and in recent years (I actually quit only a little under a year ago) I have had three chest x-rays to this end because I was beginning to experience feelings that were unnerving, aches and mild localised throbbing in my thorax. I have made a point of using dietary supplements and this began as a child with just a multivitamin/multimineral once a day to where I am now, where I also take 2000mg vitamin C with 20mg Zinc, 200 iu vitamin E, 1200mg odourless garlic, all once a day, and 30mg CoEnzyme Q10 twice a day. I also use 1000mg glucosamine since a knee operation eight years ago twice a day, 800mg plant sterol twice a day and a pill of lutein once a day. I am what you may feel is someone who has become reliant. I have read Patrick Holford and have a mother of 86 who has always felt that supplements work. I am certainly not judging your ideas negatively, however. I am convinced that you take your information from credible studies but can you definitely say that across the board no one benefits from supplements beyond a placebo effect? I chose to enjoy a vegan diet last year. I had been vegetarian for the previous year and a half and I am keen to continue with this choice but I am worried about cutting down or even doing without the supplements I take. What about the B12 factor? Now, I take a multivitamin that provides me with 10 mcg/day vitamin B12, well above the RDA, and the only other sources I have for this vitamin is fortified yeast extract and nutritional yeast. Whichever way, it is added, supplemented, and no vegan can get away with that, to my knowledge, short of eating soil. I have only been receiving your posts in my inbox for a couple of months. I like your presentation and intend to continue doing this, and donating as I have once already, so I would appreciate a definitive answer to the central question of are all supplements useless, even dangerous? And if you can also settle the B12 issue, too, that would be grand. Thanks.

    1. Hi Nicholas. Thanks so much for letting me repost this question you hit on so many important factors. I think the above blog does a great job explaining the research, but you may benefit from watching the other videos that Dr. Greger mentions, especially this one that brings up cancer and if we Should We Take a Multivitamin?. There is a good explanation at the end of the video. Other research has found certain supplements like Lutein pills may actually increase cancer risk. Antioxidant supplements are not an effective replacement for eating real veggies. From the SELECT trial vitamin E was associated with increase prostate cancer risk. Folic acid supplements may also be associated with increased cancer risk. Male smokers supplementing with beta-carotene have been shown experience increased risk of lung cancer and mortality. The only supplements that Dr. Greger mentions in this blog that “with the exception of vitamins D and B12 (Vitamin Supplements Worth Taking), we should strive to get our nutrients from produce, not pills”. His recommendations for B12 and where to find the cheapest source are here: Cheapest source of B12 along with Dr. Greger’s Optimal Nutrition Recommendations.

      I commend you for quitting smoking! Huge step. Note that you have many supplements listed and it’s best to discuss them with your doctor, as I cannot give medical advice. I would ask your healthcare team about zinc, as the Upper Limit is 40mg, and you are at 20mg with one pill! The RDA is 11mg for adult men. I don’t worry too much about excess B12 or Vitamin C since they are water soluble and no toxicities are known. I think Dr. Greger’s recommendations are spot on, and always good to share this info with your doctor so you can find the right plan.


      1. Thanks for posting that up for me, Joseph. To be honest, I don’t know what to think. This whole issue of nutrition, how best to get what your body needs, is still a science in ascendence and advice from either side of the pond does not necessarily tally.

        What I would say is that even with pharmaceutical drugs different people respond differently to them: what may work for some does not necessarily work for others. I think the same should be said for alternative treatments like supplementation and perhaps this is why there is such a choice of treatments to choose from for any given ailment, simply because there have been many people over many years all finding slightly different solutions to health problems in their own particular communities, such problems being similar but perhaps not identical, for example, to another community?

        What Dr Greger says is as valid, therefore, as what Patrick Holford has to say simply down to how the evidence has been assimilated. It leaves me knowing that I can take all the advice under the sun but in the end I have to come to my own decision. However, could I direct you to my other post on this page, under my pseudonym, kaibloom? It is right next to what you have posted, thanks.

        1. Joseph, as stated earlier I have contacted my supplement manufacturer about Lutein and I have now received their response. I shall copy and paste it as it is:

          “”Our Retinex tablets contain lutein beadlets, which are esterified forms of lutein. In each tablet, we include 103mg of Lutein Esters, which deliver 10mg of free-base lutein. When we refer to 10mg Lutein in our literature and on our packets, this is the minimal amount that will be
          delivered by every tablet, however due to differing bioavailability, some individuals will in fact obtain slightly more.

          The Natural Medicines database does not flag a concern with lutein esters. It states:

          “Lung cancer. There is epidemiological evidence that low serum levels of carotenoids, including lutein, are associated with an increased risk of lung cancer. However, other epidemiological evidence suggests that lutein is not associated with an increased or decreased risk of
          developing or dying from lung cancer”.

          Other research sites such as WebMD and PubMed state that there is evidence (1) to indicate that Lutein and other carotenoids may actually reduce the risk of lung cancer, however further study is required before any such claims can be made.

          In reference to the form of Lutein, the ester variety, such as our Retinex, is stabilised using fatty acids, which does not affect the absorption, efficacy or safety of Lutein. There is at least one study (2) to indicate that Lutein esters are actually more bio-available than ‘free-base’ Lutein, so considered by some to be more beneficial.””

          So, there we have it, Joseph. It is a typical difference of opinion from what Dr Greger is saying about Lutein leaving me with having to come to my own conclusion about it, as I thought I might. The link you supplied to the traffic light presentation had next to no information other than the opinion it is dangerous.
          Further to my comment about the seasonality of the vegetables that are sources of Lutein, I have performed a general search and I have found that there are vegetable and fruit sources that are present throughout the year, so not as I originally thought just a winter event. From this I could dispel my psychological reliance on the supplement, perhaps, but knowing there is history of ARMD in my family means I wonder if such a decision is correct when I could be benefitting from the supplement. Hey Ho :-)

  23. Having read through this page, I need to speculate on something. Does anyone eating healthily still actually get all the daily nutrients their body needs from the food they eat, every day? People eat different foods from day to day, even with healthy diets, with varying levels of nutrients made available as a result.

    My point is that if you are taking a multivitamin/multimineral as a supplement to a recognized healthy diet doesn’t this allow your body to sift through all of it and decide which nutrients it needs to absorb on a daily basis? If you are not taking the mulitvitamin/multimineral then one’s body may in fact be deprived compared to when you are taking it. I’ve never thought of supplements as meal replacements, I have always considered them as something to supplement the food I am eating.

    1. Good point! If you do supplement I suggest finding one without added metals like copper and iron. Water soluble vitamins are probably harmless, but then again the poor regulation of supplements in general are an issue. It’s really up to you to decide if your diet supplies the necessary nutrients. Please check out the other videos on multivitamins from the links in the blog they are very helpful determining the pros and cons of multivitamins.

      1. Dear Nutritionist Gonzales,

        This research report is challenged by the Life Extension Foundation:

        In Dr. Greger’s web video on the 40 year vegan who died of heart disease, he distributed a sheet of common deficiencies among vegans. I think Vegans have less deficiencies, but he mentions at least Zinc prominently in addition to B12.

        Niacin and Vitamin E at least are stripped from whole grains in processing. I think it might be important to add some of these nutrients back. I think it is interesting to note that the health benefit of a vegetarian lifestyle can be mimiced with a honed and generous use of some vitamins. This is important in presenting options to a community which seems to agree with you but is coming from a totally different background.

  24. I recently tried the supplement MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) because I heard that it reduced joint pain. I was surprised by how well it worked. Everything that I have read seems to be positive to the extreme. The claims include improvements in cartilage, muscle repair, skin, hair, detoxification, immune function, and almost everything you can think of. When I hear those kinds of claims, especially from a chemical I am very suspicious. I read that this is essentially the same chemical in cruciferous vegetables, onions, and others and most people are very deficient in sulfur even if they eat lots of sulfur containing vegetables. Is this supplement something that should be taken? Are the claims listed true? What are the possible negative effects and their dependence on dosage? If the claims of insufficient intake are true is there a better way to boost sulfur intake?

    1. Hey Matthew. I found 9 papers on the MSM and safety. Here is one, it does mention a few side effects. Looks like folks were taking 2600mg. Like you, I don’t think the miraculous claims for MSM are 100% valid. If cruciferous veggies do the same thing essentially than a much better choice. The only supplements Dr. Greger recommends are found here: Dr. Greger’s Optimal Nutrition Recommendations. I hope that is helpful. Please ask your doctor if MSM is right for you.

      Best regards,

      1. I take 750mg of MSM 2x per day. If left off in a few days my lower back discomfort starts. The discomfort is really noticeable when laying down and trying to sleep. OTC pain killers don’t relieve that same discomfort and certainly are less desirable to be ingesting. People have to take what is best for their body. There is no best list of supplements that fits everyones requirements.

    2. Does it lower your blood pressure immediately, effectively, and without regards to the time it was taking with lasting results? I took some and thought I lost contact with my blood pressure without feeling dizzy. I am worried I was having a bad reaction because I’m allergic to sulfa drugs. Maybe not, if its in all fresh vegetables. Dr. Linus Pauling said taking 3 grams of vitamin C a day could extend your life by 25 years. He lived well into his nineties. It’s essential, a real war out there for Niacin and Vitamin C. I am surprised people are so civil about our deficiencies. The Nobel Laureates would be proud.

  25. The ‘Kind’ of multivitamin that I take is food based. Some of the nutrients that are in the multivitamin are hard to get otherwise, like vitamin K2. K2, by the way, comes from bacteria and it’s ‘not’ from a synthetic but a cultured source. I try to get all my supplements from food based sources, like iodine from kelp.

    I have to agree that food is better, but that is not always practical.

  26. Hi. I’m suffering with EPI, suspect it is caused by blocked bile ducts (I’m having tests, maybe its gallstones) and I wonder if mutlivitamins would help me? I haven’t taken one yet due to concerns but I’m going to start Magnesium, Zinc and possibly some others which I’ve heard help pancreatitis sufferers. My pain is getting better thanks in part to all your advise on the best anti-oxidant / inflammatory foods but I also have the complication of ‘Do I avoid oxalates like Turmeric and cinnamon?’ because I suspect gallstones. It’s all very confusing.

    I’m in a pretty bad way. Surviving through a super diet, and blending a lot of my food into soups, and taking enzymes, but I keep getting muscular and back pain particularly after sleeping or walking. I’m taking D3, B12 and occasionally wakame in my soups for Iodine. Docs say my D3 is excellent, but as this is public health care they don’t give me many details.

    I suppose though the main point, is if I don’t absorb nutrients well from food will I absorb any more from a tablet?

  27. When I became a vegetarian, I developed two symptoms showing a lack of B12 (and I didn’t know those symptoms existed, so it wasn’t psychological). I started taking a multivitamin, and the symptoms disappeared.

  28. I’m a 57 year old woman, vegetarian and in prior annual exams I’ve been found low in D so I take a D3 every day plus the same multivitamin I’ve been taking for years. I am completely embracing Dr. Greger’s information and working to incorporate it all into my lifestyle.
    I ran out of vitamins this morning! So I went looking for science this time and I found these that have undergone eight clinical trials: Swisse Women’s Ultivite Multivitamin.
    Now I don’t read clinical trials, I don’t have to! ;-)
    Here’s the first and where I stopped:

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