Do Multivitamins Work or Are You Throwing Money Out the Window?

Do Multivitamins Do More Harm or Good?

Do multivitamins work, or are you throwing money out the window? People have been supplementing vitamins and minerals for thousands of years. It is a common misunderstanding that our ancestors only ate off of the land, and most people are not aware that ancient cultures treated nutritional deficiencies with whatever crude methods were available to them at the time.

A perfect example of this is how ancient Egyptians identified and treated vision problems associated with vitamin A deficiency. The Ebers Papyrus, the famed medical papyrus of herbal knowledge dating to 1550 BC, discusses at length the techniques used by ancient Egyptian physicians to treat night blindness.

They squeezed the “juices” of a grilled lamb’s liver into the eyes of their patients. Then the patient would eat the liver, which is extremely rich in vitamin A. (1) This example really illustrates the length people were willing to go to sustain their health, doesn’t it!

Dietary Supplements Explained

The use of herbs and animal glands to treat health disorders dates back to six-thousand-year-old clay tablets written by the Sumerians. They were known to use licorice, mustard plants, opium poppy, and thyme as medicine. In spite of this legacy from ancient civilizations, many health experts and researchers have questioned the effectiveness of supplementation and claim that a well-balanced diet is all that we need.

Although it may seem unusual to use lamb’s blood as a supplement, it actually perfectly fits the definition of a dietary supplement. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration: (2)

A dietary supplement is a product intended for ingestion that contains a “dietary ingredient” intended to add further nutritional value to (supplement) the diet. A “dietary ingredient” may be one, or any combination, of the following substances:

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Herb or other botanicals
  • Amino acids
  • Dietary substances for use by people to supplement the diet by increasing
    their total dietary intake
  • Concentrates, metabolites, constituents, or extracts

Dietary supplements may be found in many forms such as tablets, capsules, softgels, gelcaps, liquids, or powders. Some dietary supplements can help ensure that you get an adequate dietary intake of essential nutrients; others may help you reduce your risk of disease.

Vitamin Deficient or Taking Excessive Doses

When public health officials talk about vitamin deficiencies and the need to supplement, they’re talking about specific populations and specific vitamins.

Younger women, for instance, tend to have low iodine, which is crucial for fetal brain development. (3) Another example, Mexican-American women and young children are more likely to be iron deficient. However, even in this population, only 11% of children and 13% of women are affected.

To help answer the question, “do multivitamins work,” it is important to remember that widespread vitamin deficiency is not realistic in our culture and scientists are uncovering that overdosing on vitamins is actually more of a problem. Taking an excess amount of vitamin A, for example, has been known to cause liver damage, coma and even death. (4, 5, 6) Other examples include:

• Vitamin A and E have been known to increase lung cancer risk in smokers. (7, 8)
• Excess zinc is linked to reduced immune function, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, reduced iron and headaches. (9)
• Long-term excessive intake of manganese is linked to iron-deficiency anemia. Symptoms of manganese toxicity shockingly resemble those of Parkinson’s disease (tremors and stiff muscles) and excessive intake has been linked to hypertension in patients older than 40. (10)
• Niacin in excess has been known to cause liver cell damage and a slew of side effects such as flushing, itching, nausea and vomiting (11)

Do Multivitamins Work: Natural vs. Synthetic

All in all, most adverse effects have been reported with pharmacologic preparations of niacin, not typical “fortified” breads and milk. (12)

It is interesting to point out that niacin from natural food sources is not known to cause negative side effects. However, one study noted that people who unknowingly ate vitamin-fortified bagels that mistakenly had 60 times the normal amount of niacin experienced some pretty bad consequences.

Unfortunately, for the average consumer, this whole discussion gets more complicated when manufacturers mix various vitamins and minerals in one easy to swallow tablet because different minerals compete against each other for absorption. You need to be a veritable biochemist to understand what’s good for you nowadays!

Case in point:

• If you take too much calcium, you won’t be able to absorb iron sufficiently.
• If you take too much iron, you won’t be able to absorb zinc.
• If you take vitamin C, your copper levels will drop.
• And the list goes on and on…

The bottom line is that unless you purchase a multivitamin that is specifically designed for you and your unique biochemical individuality, it could ruin the critical vitamin/mineral balance required for health.

So, do multivitamins work? It all depends. Unfortunately, the one-size-fits-all approach that manufacturers have taken is woefully incorrect and people who regularly consume multivitamins put themselves at risk of not only vitamin/mineral deficiency, but also taking an overdose!

So, does this mean that multivitamins are not good for us? Well, as clear-cut as it may seem, there’s actually quite a heated debate over this issue.

Do Multivitamins Work: The Debate

On one side of the debate, traditionalists refer back to thousands of years of use and also quote the most recent studies describing how the nutritional content of our fresh fruits and vegetables today pale in comparison to what our parents and grandparents ate. (13, 14)

According to biologist Donald Davis, Ph.D. from the University of Texas Austin:

“Considered as a group, we found that six out of 13 nutrients showed apparently reliable declines between 1950 and 1999…These nutrients included protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin and ascorbic acid. The declines, which ranged from 6 percent for protein to 38 percent for riboflavin, raise significant questions about how modern agriculture practices are affecting food crops.”(15, 16)

In essence, the argument is, “If our ancestors found the need to supplement when food was full of nutrition, then how much more should we supplement today because our food is deplete of vitamins and minerals?”

On the other end of the spectrum, skeptics like Dr. Eliseo Guallar, a professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, claims that the data simply doesn’t add up. “We believe that it’s clear that vitamins are not working,” Guallar says. In fact, “The probability of a meaningful effect is so small that it’s not worth doing study after study and spending research dollars on these questions.”(17)

A recent article published in the Annals of Internal Medicine titled, “Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements,” supports Guallar’s theory:

After reviewing 3 trials of multivitamin supplements and 24 trials of single or paired vitamins that randomly assigned more than 400,000 participants, the authors concluded that there was no clear evidence of a beneficial effect of supplements on all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, or cancer.(18)

The Increased Use of Supplements

Multivitamin use has increased among U.S. adults by 10%, despite questionable evidence of no benefit or even potential harm, Today more than 40% of people supplement with multi-vitamins and more than 50% of Americans use some sort of supplement on a daily basis. (19) All in all, we spend a whopping $30 billion a year on supplements.

In the words of Steven Salzberg, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins:

“I think this is a great example of how our intuition leads us astray. It seems reasonable that if a little bit of something is good for you, then more should be better for you. It’s not true. Supplementation with extra vitamins or micronutrients doesn’t really benefit you if you don’t have a deficiency…You need a balance. The vast majority of people taking multivitamins and other supplemental vitamins don’t need them. I don’t need them, so I stopped.” (20)

Duffy MacKay, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutrition – a trade group that represents supplement manufacturers, says:

“We all need to manage our expectations about why we’re taking multivitamins. Research shows that the two main reasons people take multivitamins are for overall health and wellness and to fill in nutrient gaps. Science still demonstrates that multivitamins work for those purposes, and that alone provides reason for people to take a multivitamin.” (21)

So what’s the bottom line? Which side of the argument should we believe? Both sides are passionate in their viewpoints and considering there’s $30 billion on the line, it is easy to understand why.

Do Multivitamins Work: TheConclusion

So, do multivitamins work or are you throwing money out the window?

It's important to note that several of the previously mentioned studies refer to vitamins composed of synthetic isolates, rather than those sourced from whole foods: herein lies the issue. There are two truths to supplementation, one in which resides within the word itself.

Taking additional vitamins and minerals should be SUPPLEMENTAL to an already proactive healthy diet and lifestyle and not used to avoid all the other healthy aspects of your life. Millions of Americans take their “Once-Daily Tablet,” believing they are “protected” and have their nutritional needs “covered.” Dietary additives, combined with proper nutrition, should be the catalyst to healthy living and not the crutch that deters it.

As I mentioned above, the second truth to consider is the source of the nutrients you are taking. Using synthetic vitamins is not only counterproductive; it can also be incredibly destructive. The human body cannot assimilate, nor recognize, synthetically isolated dietetics. Your vitamins should be raw whole foods obtained from Non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) and GMP (Good Manufacturing Processes) facilities.

Look for the following words and acronyms on the labels of your prospective nutritional supplements: GMP, Non-GMO, Raw, Whole Food, USDA Organic, ISO 9001, ISO 17025, Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Soy-Free, No Fillers or Binders, No Artificial Colors, Zero Preservatives, Pesticide and Herbicide Free.

And remember, unless the manufacturer obtains their products from real food (e.g., Iodine sourced from kale and not a synthetic culture), Do Not Take The Product.

This post currently has 21 comments.

  1. Sara Grobler
    January 8, 2017

    The more I research the topic, the more confused I get! Some promote mega doses of ascorbic acid, others insist that Vitamin C mist be natural and accompanied by hesperidin, rutin, bioflavonoids and all the necessary cofactors. Some say that vitamin E only needs to contain beta carotene, others recommend full spectrum vitamin e with the full gamut of tocotrionols and tocopherols. Some advise taking iodine for thyroid disease, others recommend avoiding it. Some insist that folic acid and cyanocobalamin are dangerous for people with MTHFR mutations and should be taken in their methylated forms What’s a girl to believe?? i love garden of Life products, but I live in South Africa and they are simply unaffordable for me.

    • Customer Support
      January 11, 2017

      Yes, lots of information regarding this topic. Here is a documentary that just came out this last week and will be available to watch–>>

      • Michael Betancur
        January 19, 2017

        I watched this movie not too long ago, and I have seen Andrew W Saul talking about taking tons of vitamins and supplements. In one of the documentaries he was on, he said about taking Niacin (as Nicotinic acid) to treat depression, anxiety, and it did help patients with those issues, but as far as I understand, this form of Niacin is synthetic, doesn’t make sense.
        They also talk about consuming lots of Vitamin C to treat certain conditions, but this is in the form of ascorbic acid, this one is synthetic as well derived from other materials. It confuses people, and it does not make a lot of sense talking about “natural medicine” using synthetic vitamins? I do believe that we need to take real whole food vitamins, so what is the deal with this synthetic vitamins, why do they promote them as natural for us? Is it better for them to use those instead of pharmaceutical drugs?

      • Mike
        January 20, 2017

        I watched this movie not too long ago, and I have seen Andrew W Saul talking about taking tons of vitamins and supplements. In one of the documentaries he was on, he said about taking Niacin (as Nicotinic acid) to treat depression, anxiety, and it did help patients with those issues, but as far as I understand, this form of Niacin is synthetic, doesn’t make sense.
        They also talk about consuming lots of Vitamin C to treat certain conditions, but this is in the form of ascorbic acid, this one is synthetic as well derived from other materials. It confuses people, and it does not make a lot of sense talking about “natural medicine” using synthetic vitamins? I do believe that we need to take real whole food vitamins, so what is the deal with this synthetic vitamins, why do they promote them as natural for us? Is it better for them to use those instead of pharmaceutical drugs?

  2. Melissa
    November 15, 2016

    Could you recommend a good digestive enzyme for someone who has extreme leaky gut/SIBO/IBS/gas/bloating

    Thank you

  3. Denise
    August 28, 2016

    I have also learned that the terms Raw and Whole Food have been Tm by some companies and not what is in the actual product.. Very frustrating to think you are doing something well to help your family and then you find out you are not!

    • Dr. Z
      August 30, 2016

      I know, it’s very frustrating and there are few labels that we can really trust…

  4. Adriane Suhayda
    August 21, 2016

    How confusing! After tuning in to several health summits, including the Vitamin Summit, I found a lot of encouragement to try and treat my depression through supplements. To make a long story short, it worked! Further, if I stop taking the supplements, the symptoms gradually return. I’ve had blood work done and everything looks normal so as far as I can tell I’m not causing any harm to myself.

    I’m sure you’re familiar with the work of Andrew Saul and the wealth of research he has on the Doctor Yourself website. I’ve heard him speak in health summits with you. Anyways, I appreciate all the scientific research he posts on his site. I now always question any research I read about because I understand that data can be manipulated. I know the big pharmaceutical companies would much rather have us believe that vitamins are harmful and keep us dependent on even more damaging prescription medications. I think it’s important to educate ourselves as much as possible and to listen to what our bodies are telling us.

    Just my thoughts on a very complex subject…

    • Dr. Z
      August 21, 2016

      Hi Adriane,

      Supplements aren’t all bad. It’s just that most have harmful/useless fillers and multi-vitamins are virtually useless. Targeting supplementation is the best way to go, which is the central theme of the Medicinal Supplement Summit –>

  5. Patrice Moody
    April 18, 2016

    What is good to take. I don’t take a multivitamin, but what is good to take. I take a turmeric capsule and COq10 capsule, these are good?

    • Dr. Z
      April 27, 2016

      Hi Patrice, it all depends on what your goals are. Immune boosting, cancer prevention, inflammation reversal, etc…

      The one-size-fits-all to medicine and supplements doesn’t work so you’ll need to focus on what you want to accomplish and work backwards from there…

  6. Lisa
    April 18, 2016

    Without a properly functioning digestive system, that is one with proper enzymes in adequate amounts, you will not be able to fix anything with supplements. The digestive enzymes are a must first. After this , you will be able to properly assimilate all nutrition including quality supplemental nutrition.

  7. Krista Lawrence
    April 17, 2016

    I take vitaminsome from isagenix. How would I find out if they are non-GMO and derived from foods? Or do you know if they are either of these?

    • Michelle Farniok
      February 20, 2017


      If the supplement you are taking doesn’t list it’s ingredients and sources of those ingredients I wouldn’t take it!

      • Dr. Z
        February 20, 2017

        Amen! Good point Michelle!

  8. Richard
    April 17, 2016

    It leaves one completely confused, doesn’t it !!!

    • Dr. Z
      April 17, 2016


  9. Kandy
    April 17, 2016

    Not all supplements are the same. Look at the Landmark Study –

    Those that took no supplements did better than the ones that took synthetic or high heat extracted supplements.

    However, those that took the #1 natural supplements did much better that either group.

    Certified organic, certified non-GMO and never heated. Every product is clinically tested before release, all raw material is tested and each batch is tested many times throughout the manufacturing process to insure potency.

  10. Teresa
    February 3, 2016

    The food (nutrition) of today are not the same as 20years ago because of the use of hybrid/ man made/ GMO/ chemicals etc. BUT the Company that I am involved in ONLY USE GOD-MADE FRUITS AND VEGETABLES..that are absorbed by the body…tested and proved by our Scientific Advisory Board that’s been doing the research for the last nearly 60years. We also believe EAT THE CORRECT FOOD AND TO FILL THE GAP OF WHAT WE ARE SUPPOSE TO EAT – USE SUPPLEMENTS…not the junk from health stores etc… If fruit/vegetables cannot rot in 5/6days…dont eat it. We need to feed our bodies to heal itself….

    • Michael
      April 17, 2016

      whats the company your involved with, because i believe that the best way to take in your vitamins and minerals is by food like GOD intended.


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