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Sirven: Do Multivitamin Supplements Really Work?

Dr. Sirven is a commentator for KJZZ and has written about a variety of medical issues.
(Photo courtesy of Dr. Joseph Sirven)
Dr. Sirven is a commentator for KJZZ and has written about a variety of medical issues.

 Sometimes medical doctors are just like you and me. They make decisions about their own health that do not always add up, scientifically speaking. KJZZ commentator Dr. Joseph Sirven explains. He is a practicing physician and chairman of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale. 

As a doctor, I am amazed by the vast number of people taking vitamins religiously. Full disclosure here, I am one of 40 million Americans who do. Collectively we spend $14 billion a year.

So I read with interest two recent studies comparing multivitamins to placebos. Those vitamins were supposed to prevent heart attacks in one study and cognitive impairment, a precursor to Alzheimer’s, in another. But, the studies showed little proof that multivitamins do much of anything for people who are well nourished. Given this new evidence, does that mean I now have stopped taking my daily vitamin?

The answer is, “No.”

Surveys have shown that 25 percent of people like me continue to take a multivitamin regardless of whether it worked or not. The reason being that maybe, “I know myself better than the researchers” or “perhaps I am one of the lucky few who will benefit.”  It is kind of like how so many of us buy lotto tickets, "maybe this time I have the winning numbers."

You might ask yourself what is the harm? There is very little risk to a multivitamin assuming you take it as suggested on the bottle. Even more important, some people really need to take one for medical reasons, but for those who do not need them, too many vitamins, like anything else, can lead to real problems.       

Regardless of any study, I know when I get up tomorrow morning, I will reach for my bottle of multivitamins and hope the little oval talisman that I choose to ingest may ward off any bad diseases coming my way. Yet these studies leave me with one troubling thought. Maybe I should spend that vitamin money on better exercise shoes, a salad or lotto tickets after all.