By Daniela Osiander - Naturopath, Dietician and Massage Therapist
Patients ask me this all the time. My answer is: yes. But make it a good one. Better still: get informed advice to help you get the most out of supplements. Did you know that you need more vitamin C if you are a smoker, more B-vitamins in times of stress, and more vitamin D if you have dark skin? A naturopath is trained to help you figure out what your body needs. But a multi is a good start.
Ok, outright nutrient deficiency diseases are very rare in the Western world these days. What I am talking about here are diseases like scurvy from lack of vitamin C, beriberi caused by a lack of vitamin B1 (riboflavin) or rickets due to vitamin D deficiency. A typical Western diet is easily sufficient to prevent such diseases in all but extreme cases.
But what we do see even here are 'suboptimal intakes'. To stick with our examples: Vitamin C functions as an antioxidant in our body. It is now widely recognised that having less than ideal vitamin C levels can increase the risk for a range of chronic diseases related to free radical damage. As for the B-group vitamins, suboptimal levels of folic acid, along with suboptimal levels of vitamins B6 and B12, are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, neural tube defects, breast and colon cancer. A link to Parkinson's disease is also suspected. Low levels of vitamin D contribute to bone weakness and fractures. These are just some examples.
Admittedly, there is no really good clinical trial comparing people taking a multi with others that are not. Such a trial is hard to set up as it would have to go over a very long time, decades preferably, with a huge number of people and taking the multi would have to be the only difference between the two groups - a tough ask when you think about it. But looking at all the evidence we have available today, even the Harvard School of Medicine recommended in a 2002 scientific review: "Pending strong evidence of effectiveness from randomized trials, it appears prudent for all adults to take vitamin supplements." (Fletcher RH, Fairfield KM. Vitamins for Chronic Disease Preventions in Adults. JAMA. 2002;287:3127-3129) Basically, consider a good multi an insurance against suboptimal levels.
Now what to pick? Well, as a very rough rule of thumb with supplements: You tend to get what you pay for. More expensive formulas often have a better mix of nutrients or more absorbable compounds in them. This website will help you compare different products to some degree, so that's a good start. To make sure you get the good stuff, I recommend that you ask a well trained naturopath or nutritionist. They can also make sure you do not get too much of a good thing or risk interactions with any medication you are taking (although with a multi alone that would be quite unlikely).
A naturopath or nutritionist should also be able to advise you on how to use therapeutic doses of certain nutrients, i.e. how much vitamin C to reduce severity and duration of the common cold, how to use B-vitamins in times of stress or treat cervical dysplasia with folic acid and other nutrients, or how to use vitamin D in the treatment of certain autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis.
By Daniela Osiander Naturopath, Dietician and Massage Therapist
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