Vitamins: Do They Actually Work?

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Confused by articles saying that you shouldn’t take vitamins? So are many. But not us, because we read what we called in our U.S. News and World Report Blog the "fine print" of medical studies. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about supplements these days. If it all seems like too much to swallow, here’s a breakdown to help it go down smoothly.
Following a review by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force on vitamin and mineral supplements and a dramatic editorial in a leading medical journal (the Annals of Internal Medicine, which published the Task Force review in the same issue), many have shouted from the digital rooftops that you should throw your vitamins out the window (not literally, of course). Well, we respectfully disagree and think that a lot of this hullabaloo is based on articles that don’t take important details into consideration. Here’s what you need to know.
Supplements are supposed to supplement
Many of the studies that failed to show a convincing-enough effect of vitamins against cancer (they do decrease this for men over age 50 and in offspring of mothers who take prenatal multis — by 60 percent or more up to age 6), heart disease, and cognitive decline were done in populations of people who have healthy diets, in fact much healthier than the average American's diet, and who smoke less and exercise more than most people. Vitamin and mineral supplements are intended to make up for nutritional deficiencies. Therefore, it’s people with nutritional deficiencies who stand to benefit the most from taking them. Diet is always the go-to source for what your body needs; supplements are a great way to help provide nutrients you’re not getting enough of. Examples include vitamin D3, which comes from the sun and is in especially short supply in the winter; DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid from ocean sources that is important for brain and eye function; and folic acid or other substances (vitamins or minerals or essential fats, such as DHA) commonly found in prenatal vitamins that are important for women who are or may become pregnant.
If you want them to work, you actually have to take them
This seems pretty obvious to us, but somehow people seem to be missing this important point. In at least two of the studies commonly referenced lately, and in many considered in the meta-analysis report, a large portion of participants stopped taking their vitamins or didn’t take them consistently. Unless you take your supplements every day, they’re not going to work. (Duh.)
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Vitamins generally don’t hurt you
There are some supplements that you need to be careful about, such as fat-soluble A and E, overloaded megavitamins, and iron (if you are not iron-deficient). But overall, daily value vitamin and mineral supplements (taken daily) don’t do harm. So, if they don’t do harm and they might help you a lot, why wouldn’t you take them? Critics say they might hurt your wallet, but the price tags are manageable for most, and it’s a small price to pay for better health — and much less than a doctor’s visit or long-term medical care!
The bottom line
Take half a multi twice a day. The right multivitamin can make your RealAge more than six years younger. Our recommendation is to find a multivitamin that has close to the daily recommended levels of magnesium, calcium, vitamin D3, and C, plus folate if you are or could become pregnant. (No iron unless you are deficient, and no megavitamins!) Take half in the morning and half in the evening to help your body process it efficiently for you. Think of it as a health insurance policy that is inexpensive and easy to swallow.

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