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What your multivitamin can and can't do for you

What your multivitamin will and won't do for ... 01:45

New research says that taking multivitamins won’t help the health of the general public. But, does that mean you should swear off all supplemental pills and powders?

Dr. Houman Danesh, director of integrative pain management at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, says while fruits and vegetables remain the best way to get your daily nutrients, multivitamins may be useful for some.


At least half of all Americans take multivita... 01:22
 “If you’re traveling and you know you are not going to eat fruits and vegetables, absolutely eat a multivitamin. If you’re having a stressful week at work and not going to go (grocery) shopping, take a multivitamin,” he said to CBS News.

About half of Americans take vitamin and mineral supplements, according to researchers. New studies claim that these substances do not significantly reduce heart disease or cancer risk, prevent cognitive decline in older adults, or lower the rate of heart attacks, stroke or early death for people who have already suffered a heart attack.  

The science is unclear whether our bodies absorb natural nutrients from food and multivitamins in different ways, according Danesh, but for the most part, researchers believe we consume and use them in the same ways.

Danesh, who specializes in supplement research, pointed out that there are benefits to eating fruits and vegetables that multivitamins can’t provide. Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, which has been known to rid the body of irritants and other toxins that can cause disease. Berries are good antioxidants, which have been linked to lower incidences of cardiac and coronary disease.

Multivitamins might not contain every single compound that we need for our health, he added. Until recently, lycopene, a compound found in red fruits and vegetables like tomatoes and bell peppers, wasn’t included in multivitamins. Doctors have now linked the chemical to anti-angiogenic properties, meaning they lower the incidence of cancers because they reduce blood flow to areas that feed tumor growth. In particular, lycopene-rich foods have been associated with a lower rate of prostate cancer.

In addition, taking a multivitamin doesn't guarantee you're getting all those nutrients. When it comes to water-soluble vitamins, once your body reaches its maximum limit, the person just urinates the excess out. These include the majority of vitamins except for vitamin A, D, E and K, which are fat-soluble. Products that claim that they provide hundreds of percentages over the daily nutritional recommendations may be going down the drain -- literally

There’s also the fact that multivitamins and nutritional supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, which means that consumers cannot exactly be sure how much of each vitamin is in each pill.

Even people who try to binge on multivitamins or healthy foods by doing a cleanse or eating healthy for a short period of time probably aren’t doing themselves a favor. If there aren’t permanent dietary lifestyle changes made, they’ll just go back to their nutrient-deficient ways. And, any excess vitamins they consume at this time will just go away.

“You’re going to meet a certain point, and your body is going to pee it up,” Danesh pointed out.

Eating too much of fat-soluble vitamins, on the other hand, can lead to an overdose, but Danesh admitted it is very hard to reach that level.

“Having a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables of wide variety of different colors would be the best approach,” he said.

The difficulty is knowing whether you are getting enough vitamins to keep you healthy. Though the recommendation to not take multivitamins was made for the general public, it doesn’t mean it's the case for some individuals. Danesh suggested talking to a dietitian or another medical professional to figure out if your diet is right for you.

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