Trace amounts of vitamins are essential to good health. As our knowledge of the roles that vitamins play in maintaining good health grew, so too did the multivitamins industry, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars a year. Before long we were all being urged to make sure we were getting our daily dose of vitamins. To make sure we all bought in to the hype, vitamin marketers even designed specialized “age-adjusted” multivitamin combinations, such as Centra Silver (for adults over 50) and Flintstones vitamins (for children).

But are vitamin supplements really necessary? Not everyone thought so. Two years ago a Mayo Clinic physician advised that “Multivitamins aren’t necessary for healthy children who are growing normally.”

Two new clinical trials and a recently-published review of 27 previous vitamin studies all support the conclusion that multivitamin supplements are not necessary for well-nourished people. In fact, too much of some vitamins, most notably beta-carotene, vitamin E and perhaps vitamin A, can be harmful. The latest research, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, signals a major shift in the philosophy of multivitamin use, from “You should take them, just to be sure.” to “In well-nourished individuals, they may do more harm than good.” According to the editorial in the same journal, the use of vitamin supplements by healthy individuals is not justified and should be avoided. Avoided.

That’s not to say that vitamins should never be taken as supplements. Individuals who have been tested and are known to be deficient in vitamins should take them, of course. But a person in good health should spend his/her money on something else.

It’ll be interesting to see how the multivitamin industry reacts to these findings.

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