In a new study, researchers found that the health ‘benefits’ of multivitamins might just all be a trick of the mind.
They found people who regularly take multivitamins self-reported 30% better overall health than people who don’t use the supplements.
However, a comprehensive medical history—assessing dozens of physical and mental illnesses—revealed zero actual health differences between people who did or did not take multivitamins.
The research was conducted by a team at Harvard Medical School.
About one-third of Americans routinely take multivitamins in the belief that they contribute to good health.
But prior studies have found little evidence to support any benefit from multivitamins for an array of health problems ranging from heart disease to cancer.
In this study, the researchers analyzed data on more than 21,000 people collected as part of the 2012 U.S. National Health Interview Survey.
Participants were asked about their use of complementary medical practices, which included taking vitamin supplements.
Nearly 5,000 people said they regularly took multivitamins, while more than 16,000 said they didn’t.
Regular multivitamin users were much older and tended to have higher household incomes; they were also more likely to be women, college graduates, married, and have health insurance.
Participants were also asked about the myriad health problems that might affect them.
They found multivitamin users tended to judge themselves more healthy than nonusers, but the nitty-gritty medical details revealed that they really weren’t.
The strong belief that multivitamins work might trick people into feeling healthier than they actually are, the team says.
It also might be that folks who take multivitamins are in general, or just naturally, more positive people.
The team says these results shouldn’t be interpreted to say that all supplements are a waste of money.
There are certainly legitimate uses of vitamin supplements. For example, during pregnancy folic acid is commonly prescribed to prevent neural tube defects in the child.
But for the general population who have no specific condition that would require a multivitamin or specific vitamin supplement, researchers really have no evidence to suggest that taking a daily multivitamin helps in any way.
The best way to obtain the nutrients and minerals you need is through food.
One author of the study is Manish Paranjpe.
The study is published in the journal BMJ Open.
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