Q&A: RE-THINKING MULTIVITAMINS
Posted: December 24, 2013
Updated: December 12, 2017
By: Michael Klaper, M.D.
I used to take a standard, high-potency multivitamin tablet every day. I don’t anymore and I recommend my patients don’t either.
You might think, “What can be bad about taking a vitamin? We need them, right?” Well, yes, we do. Now, consider this…
Vitamins that are needed in order for healthy chemical reactions to occur in our cells are found in the colorful fruits and vegetables that should compose the majority of our diet. When we eat, say, a carrot, we ingest a family of molecules called carotenes. Alpha carotene, beta-carotene, gamma carotene, epsilon carotene – a symphony of natural, stabilizing molecules – are present in modest, balanced amounts.
However, most vitamin manufacturers take one carotene – beta-carotene – and concentrate it into extremely high amounts. A typical dose is 20,000 International Units (IU) or more. At this concentration, you’ve created a pharmaceutical agent, essentially a drug that often has unforeseen side effects.
Although taking multivitamins may seem “natural” and “good,” the reality is that when you monitor people who consume multivitamins on a regular basis, many do not do so well.
For example, people who consume high doses of vitamin A are more susceptible to hip fractures (1).
People who consume large doses of beta carotenes raise their odds of heart disease (2); smokers who consume large amounts of beta-carotene may be more prone to having a hidden lung cancer grow more aggressively (3).
Large amounts of folic acid (I’m not referring to naturally occurring folate in dark green vegetables, the source from which we should get this essential vitamin) can promote breast cancers in women (4) and prostate cancers in men (5).
As a result, I stopped taking standard, high-potency multivitamins and recommend the same course for my patients, family, and friends. Your best sources of vitamins are large, colorful salads, hearty vegetable soups and stews, large plates of dark green leaf vegetables, colorful fruit salads, and all the other naturally vitamin-rich plants that Nature provides. (See my “Health Supporting Eating Plan,” a (free) guide to constructing an easy, guaranteed-healthy day of eating based on four words that start with “S” – Salads, Soups, Steamed veggies, and Starches. Also see my 100-minute On Demand Video, “Thriving On a Plant-Based Diet.”)
What to do with that bottle of vitamins on your shelf? Taking one of the tablets one time per week should be safe until your current supply is used up.
In re-formulating his vitamin products, Dr. Fuhrman removed the most problematic substances in common/standard multivitamins – vitamin A, beta carotene, folic acid, iron, and other isolated nutrients that have been shown to over-accumulate in tissues and possibly contribute to biochemical imbalances and chronic disease. He appropriately reduced the amounts of thiamin and riboflavin to very modest levels, provided an “insurance” dose of 2,000 IU of vitamin D, and included reasonable quantities of other nutrients that can be the most challenging for vegans to obtain, namely vitamin B12, zinc, and iodine.
I recommend Dr. Fuhrman’s multivitamin products because of this thoughtful and more physiologic formulation of nutrients – and, yes, I take them myself.
These multi-vitamins should be taken with meals while the body is in an state of optimal absorption. If a vegan is taking this product, the only other required supplement would be an algae-derived DHA/EPA preparation such as Dr. Fuhrman’s “DHA+EPA Purity” or Testa’s “Omega-3 Algae oil DHA + EPA.”
Note: I am not compensated by Dr. Fuhrman or Testa for recommending their products.
Thank you for visiting my website and for considering my professional services when you need reliable medical information in understandable terms. If you’d like to discuss your health concerns in a private consultation with me by phone or web-based video, please send e-mail to: GetAdvice@DoctorKlaper.com.
Yours in health,
Dr. Michael Klaper
1) Melhus H, Michaelsson K, Kindmark A, et al: Excessive dietary intake of vitamin A is associated with reduced bone mineral density and increased risk for hip fracture. Ann Intern Med 1998;129:770-778.
2) Lancet 2003;361:2017-2023.
3) Mayne ST: Beta-carotene, carotenoids, and disease prevention in humans. FASEB J 1996;10:690-701.
4) Stolzenberg-Solomon RZ et al. Folate intake, alcohol use, and postmenopausal breast cancer risk in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Apr;83(4):895-904. Kim YI. Does a high folate intake increase the risk of breast cancer? Nut Rev; 2006; 64(10PT1) 468-75.
5) Figueiredo JC et al. Folic acid and risk of prostate cancer: results from a randomized clinical trial. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2009 Mar 18;101(6):432-5. Epub 2009 Mar 10.