Thursday, October 27, 2011

Should I Take A Multivitamin?

Even though I have generally taken one every day for years, decades even, I will say it: the evidence of benefit for taking a multivitamin for a healthy person who eats a balanced diet is questionable.

Good idea for a cyclist, snake oil, simply unneeded, or, other?

Jaakko Mursu says I should stop taking a multivitamin, and I think I agree, based on the evidence. This is from a large study on multivitamin usage that was recently covered by many news outlets, for example, here.

I have no known nutrional deficiency or disease that would indicate the need for a multivitamin.

I have other things to spend my money on than pills that demonstrate little or no benefit for me.

OTOH, a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, little processed food, and plenty of phytonutrients and antioxidants has been associated with health benefits.

I did read a few books several years ago that basically suggested that people who get more exercise need more vitamins. It's rings true, but also reasonable to believe that people who exercise get the additional vitamins they need along with the additional calories they consume. Assuming they don't get the extra calories from soda or junk, but rather from a balanced diet.

I'm going to taper off the multivitamin just because I suspect it may not be a great idea to just stop something I've been doing for years.

The less snake oil I'm spending money on and putting into my body, the better.

On the other hand, ask a well-informed nutritionist what nutrients, micro- and macro-, that I, personally, specifically, require for optimum nutrition each day, to maintain health and support physical and mental performance, given my height, weight, gender, musculature, age, race, activity level and type, occupation, geographic location, local temperature and humidity, daily exposure to sun levels, travel habits, sleep habits, stress levels and cycles, gut bacteria census, regular medications taken or lack thereof, personal and family medical history, current measured blood levels, and the well-informed nutritionist should reply: I don't know, really, but here are some suggestions we can try out. 

There are DRI charts by age and gender, but even considering one of what may appear to be the simplest of macronutrients, water, I have doubts about the applicability of DRI to me: on days when I ride a bicycle 40 miles and it's 110F outside with single-digit humidity and blazing sunshine, what's my recommended intake for water? And with that, the salts that sweat out. I'll tell you: I consume the full DRI for water on those rides in just two hours, and still lose three pounds of water weight. I'm sure that some micronutrient requirements are also impacted by strenuous activities like that, but the "sports nutrition" books I've read seem contradictory and less supported by research.

Then there's this quote from the Wikipedia article on DRI: "In September 2007, the Institute of Medicine held a workshop entitled 'The Development of DRIs 1994–2004: Lessons Learned and New Challenges.' At that meeting, several speakers stated that the current Dietary Recommended Intakes (DRI’s) were largely based upon the very lowest rank in the quality of evidence pyramid, that is, opinion, rather than the highest level – randomized controlled clinical trials. Speakers called for a higher standard of evidence to be utilized when making dietary recommendations."

What are my personal nutritional needs, particularly of micronutrients, in order to support optimal performance and good health, and do I need a vitamin pill to satisfy those requirements? I don't know. And I'm certainly not here to say one way or the other for you, the reader, either. From my point of view, though, this latest study is the decider for me: no more multivitamin pills for me, at least until something changes to convince me otherwise.

I'm just hoping that Jaakko Mursu et. al. keep their research mits off my dark chocolate and coffee. So far, moderate amounts of those appear to be good for you. I can live with that.



  1. i advocate sticking to dark chocolate, good coffee, and microbrewery beer is good as well. lots of good stuff between those three!!! steven

  2. Regardless of all that DRI stuff, you can sweat out ten pounds of fluid on a 100 mile ride in Arizona and you need to replace that and the associated electrolytes. Especially if you are going to do it day after day. You and I have different opinions about the best means to replace the latter, but both approaches are pretty basic.

  3. steven, you'll live to be 100.

    Steve A, definitely. It takes several hours, sometimes longer, to get everything back into whack, too. Which makes me think a multivitamin the night after a ride like that couldn't hurt...but who knows.


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