In general, I recommend that everyone take a multivitamin to be sure they are getting a balance of nutrients. Even the healthiest eaters can be lacking in certain nutrients so a multivitamin helps provide extra assurance. Multivitamins are the most commonly taken dietary supplement, with one-third of US adults taking a daily multivitamin.

Certain vitamins have endured their fair share of bad-mouthing, however, based on the results of large, well-publicized human clinical trials. Three such vitamins that come to mind include beta carotene and vitamins E and C. The Physician’s Health Study II, begun in 1997, sought to determine the long-term benefits of taking vitamins E and C (in one component of the study) or a multivitamin (in another component) on the prevention of major cardiovascular events, cancer, or eye disease. While vitamins E and C were not found to have preventive effects, a recent publication on the multivitamin component did find that intake of a multivitamin was protective against the development of cancer.

This high-profile trial provides some insight, if we step back and take a look at the larger picture. The trial involving only vitamins E and C did not find benefit, but the trial which utilized a balanced multivitamin did find benefit. This would seem to make sense given the many interactions vitamins have with each other and with the body. That a well-balanced intake of nutrients was found to reduce the risk of cancer is not surprising. Given the poor nutrient intake found in the Standard American Diet (SAD), especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables, adding a multivitamin is almost always a good idea, in my opinion.

The study involved over 14,000 male physicians aged 50 years or older. They took either a multivitamin or placebo for at least ten years. “Although the main reason to take multivitamins is to prevent nutritional deficiency, these data provide support for the potential use of multivitamin supplements in the prevention of cancer in middle-aged and older men,” stated the researchers.

I am glad to see the results of this large, long-term study. Studies that support multivitamin intake for disease prevention can be complicated and expensive. I know how hard it can be to eat a healthy diet every day, all day. And I know that many people are not getting the nutrients they need. This study will hopefully inspire more people to get the nutrients they need, but may not have known they needed.