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MVMS: Saving Grace or Save Your Money?

Written by: Tonya Curry, Graduate Student in Dietetics, Coordinated Program, Georgia State University
Wednesday July 1, 2020

A multivitamin mineral supplement (MVMS) is a combination of different vitamins and minerals typically
found in foods.1 An MVMS is used to complement a diet that lacks the necessary vitamins and minerals
needed for optimal health. An MVMS is often used to treat nutrient deficiencies triggered by illness,
pregnancy, poor nutrition, digestive disorders, and many other conditions.1

Data indicate more than 33% of Americans take an MVMS. About one in four young children take an
MVMS; however, adolescents are least likely to take them. Use increases with age and by age 71, more
than 40% take an MVMS.2 Those with more education, higher incomes, and who adhere to a healthier
diet and lifestyle are more prone to taking an MVMS, as well as women, elderly people, and those with
lower body weights. Smokers and members of certain ethnic and racial groups, such as African Americans,
Hispanics, and Native Americans, are less likely to take a daily MVMS.2

Consumers take an MVMS for many reasons including: increase nutrient intake; promote overall health;
and decrease the risk of disease.2 One might consider taking an MVMS if an adequate vitamin and mineral
intake is not obtained from food alone, consuming a low-calorie diet, experiencing a poor appetite, or
avoiding certain foods (e.g. allergies, vegan diet). Some healthcare providers might also recommend an
MVMS to patients with certain medical conditions.2

The positive effects of a multivitamin mineral supplement on chronic medical conditions, such as
cardiovascular disease and cancer, or its effect on brain function are inconsistent. Many of the studies
that illustrate the probable value of an MVMS to enhance health and prevent disease have been
observational, which suggest an association not a cause and effect.3 Randomized controlled trials are the
best study designs to evaluate hypotheses that modifications in diet, such as consuming an MVMS, can
prevent disease, but few have been conducted.3

Some research suggests long term use of MVMS may decease cardiovascular disease mortality in US
women who lack a history of CVD;4 whereas, a meta-analysis of 18 prospective cohort studies and
randomized clinical trials found MVMS did not positively affect cardiovascular outcomes in the general
population.5

The Physician Health Study II Trial, a randomized double-blinded study with an average follow-up of
approximately 11 years, observed a significant decrease (8%) in total cancer in subjects who received the
MVMS compared with those who received the placebo. Furthermore, MVMS use was associated with a
reduction in cancer risk of 18% in those over 70 years old and a reduction of 27% among those with
histories of cancer.6 Some studies suggest MVMS have no effect on cancer risk. In fact, there are studies
that link multivitamin mineral supplement use to increased cancer risk.7

The inconsistencies in research continues with MVMS and brain function. Results from a randomized
study of 97 healthy women demonstrate that acute supplementation (over a short period of time) with
micronutrients in healthy adults can modify metabolic parameters and cerebral blood flow during
cognitive task performance and that the metabolic consequences are sustained during chronic MVM
supplementation.8 The discoveries from the study suggest that brain function is responsive to
micronutrient supplementation, even in adults who are assumed to have nutritional status typical of the
population. On the other hand, a study that tracked the mental functioning and MVMS use of 5,947 men
for 12 years found that MVMS did not have a positive effect on mental declines such as memory loss or
slowed-down thinking.9

Although there is contradiction about MVM use and its effect on chronic conditions, there is more
consistency regarding its role in improving nutritional status. Micronutrient insufficiency and clinical
deficiency are common in the US for several micronutrients, including vitamin D, iron, vitamin B12 and
calcium. This phenomenon is more common in middle-aged to older adults. Data indicate the utilization
of gender- and age-specific multivitamins may function as a practical way to increase micronutrient status
and decrease the frequency of clinical deficiency within the middle-aged to older population.10

Taking a basic MVMS is unlikely to pose any risks to health; however, if you consume fortified foods and
drinks, such as cereals or beverages with added vitamins and minerals or take other dietary supplements,
you must be mindful of the tolerable upper intake levels of micronutrients to avoid adverse effects.2

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), if considering a MVMS, select it tailored to your age,
gender, and other characteristics, such as pregnancy.3 For example, an MVMS for men often has little or
no iron while an MVMS for seniors typically provides more calcium, vitamin D, and B12 than an MVMS for
younger adults. Prenatal supplements generally provide no vitamin A as retinol, and most children’s
supplements provide age-appropriate amounts of nutrients.3

An MVMS should be considered nutritional insurance, not a ticket to optimal health. Vitamins and
minerals should come from a well-balanced diet including plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Current evidence of MVM supplementation improving health is inconsistent, and further research is
needed to determine its value for overall wellbeing. Until consistent research data are available, MVMS:
saving grace or save your money
cannot be explicitly answered.

References


  1. What is a multivitamin? https://www.drugs.com/mtm/multivitamins.html. Accessed May 15, 2020.

  2. Multivitamin/mineral Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/MVMS-Consumer/ Accessed
    May 15, 2020.

  3. Multivitamin/mineral Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/MVMS-HealthProfessional/
    Accessed May 15, 2020.

  4. Bailey R, Fakhouri T, Park Y, et al. Multivitamin-mineral use is associated with reduced risk of
    cardiovascular disease mortality among women in the United States. J Nutr. 2015; 145:572-8.

  5. Kim J, Choi J, Kwon SY, et al. Association of multivitamin and mineral supplementation and risk of
    cardiovascular disease. Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes. 2018; 11:1-14.

  6. Blumberg J, Bailey R, Sesso H, Ulrich C. The evolving role of multivitamin/multimineral supplement
    use among adults in the age of personalized nutrition. Nutrients. 2018; 10:1-17.

  7. Do Multivitamins Work? The Surprising Truth. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/do-
    multivitamins-work Accessed May 15, 2020.

  8. Kennedy D, Stevenson E, Jackson P, et al. Multivitamins and minerals modulate whole-body energy
    metabolism and cerebral blood-flow during cognitive task performance: a double-blind, randomised,
    placebo-controlled trial. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2016; 13:1-16.

  9. Is There Really Any Benefit to Multivitamins? https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-
    and-prevention/is-there-really-any-benefit-to-multivitamins Accessed May 15, 2020.

  10. Frankenfeld C, Wallace T. Multivitamins and nutritional adequacy in middle-aged to older Americans
    by obesity status. J Diet Suppl. 2019; 1-14. doi:10.1080/19390211.2019.1645785