Harvard Men's Health Watch

Multivitamins and your health: A reappraisal

Although physician-scientists and supplement manufacturers are often at odds, they don't spend much time sparring over multivitamins. In fact, many doctors recommend a daily multivitamin and practice what they preach, downing a pill each morning. In recent years, Harvard Men's Health Watch has also endorsed these popular supplements, reasoning that even if they don't help, they won't hurt.

In preparing this article, we surveyed members of the Harvard Men's Health Watch Editorial Board; 50% reported routine multivitamin use. And in the United States as a whole, an estimated 35% of adults take multivitamins on a regular basis. The daily multivitamin has become an icon of good health in America. It wasn't always that way — and surprising new data suggest a reappraisal may be in order.

Vitamin basics

Vitamins are organic (carbon-containing) chemicals that are essential for the body's metabolism. Because the human body cannot manufacture vitamins, they must be supplied by foods or dietary supplements. The only major exception is vitamin D, which can be produced in the skin — but since sunlight is required to make vitamin D, many modern Americans don't make enough on their own.

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