Are Multivitamins Beneficial for General Health?

Are Multivitamins Beneficial for General Health?

Some of you may know I’ve recently begun studying a nutrition course online through Changing Habits and one of my recent essays was on the benefits (or lack there of) of multivitamins.  It was quite a thought provoking assignment as my opinion tended to sway back and forth between arguments.  So I thought I’d share the information and research I found so that hopefully you find it easier to navigate the Vitamin/Supplement world out there!

The vitamin and supplement industry is booming in Australia.  Around 15 years ago, approximately 50% of Australians were taking complementary medicines. Now, that number could be as high as 75%. The industry is growing 12% per year, even our selling the pharmaceutical market.1  Scientists don’t really know whether the daily multivitamin staves off disease. As a result, the concerns raised are; what’s the quality of these supplements? How does marketing affect the consumer? Do we even need them? And is the consumer educated on the supplements their taking or receiving professional advice on what they need and when?

For most people, it is best to get the vitamins our bodies need from eating a variety of healthy, unprocessed foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, pulses and high quality proteins. This would be the preferred way, rather than taking supplements. However, the reality is is that many of us don’t have a diet that’s entirely healthy.   Our soil quality has been compromised, our foods are sprayed with chemicals, we are exposed to far more processed foods than ever before.  Therefore a multivitamin may supplement ones diet in the short term, however long term, it’s best to look at the underlying cause of these deficiencies, rather than just depend on tablet form.

Data is scarce on the efficacy and safety of multivitamin and mineral supplement use in primary prevention of chronic disease in the general adult population. Evidence accumulated to date suggests potential benefits of multivitamin and mineral supplements in the primary prevention of cancer in persons with poor nutritional status or suboptimal antioxidant intake.2

Supplements do have a role to play in various cases. Health issues such as poor absorption due to gut issues; hyper-excretion due to diuretics, drugs, pH balance; and increased demand caused by stress, exercise, aging and pregnancy. For example, it is estimated that up to 30% of pregnant women suffer from a vitamin deficiency. Without supplementation, about 75% would show a deficit of at least one vitamin.3 Some women struggle to eat well if they suffer severe morning sickness, in which case the extra nutrients in pregnancy supplements may be useful.4


The quality of supplements available to the consumer can vary drastically. Majority of supplements are developed in the same way vitamins involved in food fortification are – in laboratories and synthetic. This may affect the way our body can metabolise and absorb the supplement, and could potentially put the body under more stress than necessary.   Ideally, we need our supplements to be developed from their natural state as this is what the body recognises as real.  An example where quality is often compromised is the fish oil supplement.
Many pharmacies sell large bottles of these supplements for next to nothing, while practitioners may sell them for 3-4 times the price. Why is this so? Researchers from the University of Auckland and the University of Newcastle found that only three out of 32 fish oil supplements tested contained amounts of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that were equal to or higher than the amount claimed on the label. Half of those 32 supplements came from Australia. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) guidelines state fish oil products must contain at least 90% of the amount of EPA and DHA they claim to contain. However, the study found that two thirds of the products only had 67% of the EPA and DHA claimed. Some had even lower levels, with one supplement having as little as 32% of the stated claim.5 Chances are, the poor quality supplements are the cheaper brands found in supermarkets and pharmacies.

The major influence on the general public’s decision to participate in the usage of vitamin supplements is marketing and advertising. According to the Nielsen research group, Swisse increased its media spend in 2012 by 54% compared with the previous year. It reflects the growth in advertising in the vitamins and supplements category generally, which was up 22% in 2012, according to Nielsen.1 These numbers would only be increasing over the past 4 years. The concerns are that the everyday person may be self-diagnosing; taking an array of supplements assuming they’re improving their health and may be neglecting their nutrition through food. Other concerns are any interactions with medications, particularly if they are not under the care of a qualified health practitioner.

Vitamin and mineral supplements can be a great nutritional source during certain times and for certain people. In choosing high quality products ideally sourced from food, and gaining professional educated advice they can be a great short term solution to enable people to regain health and wellbeing. The priority should be to gain all nutritional needs from a well balanced diet and to address any underlying causes to ill health, rather than just mask the symptoms.

If you’re interested in increasing your nutritional knowledge, I can highly recommend this course through Changing Habits.  They also have great resources, products and recipes on their website.

Stay tuned for a few more nutrition blogs over the coming months!


  1. The Guardian, Vitamins Take Australia (2013)
  2. Huang H; Caballero B; Chang S; Alberg A; Semba R; Schneyer C; Wilson R; Cheng T; Vassy J; Prokopowicz, G; Barnes II G; Bass E. The Efficacy and Safety of Multivitamin and Mineral Supplement Use To Prevent Cancer and Chronic Disease in Adults: A Systematic Review for a National Institutes of Health State-of-the-Science Conference. Ann Intern Med. 2006;145(5):372-385
  3. Kontic-Vucinic O , Sulovic N , Radunovic N, 2006, Micronutrients in women’s reproductive health: I. Vitamins. International Journal of Fertility and Women’s Medicine [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][51(3):106-115]
  4. Choice, Pregnancy Supplements (2014)
  5. Choice, Most fish oil supplements have false omega 3 claims, study says. (2015)


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