You may have heard on the news some of the latest information about multivitamins. A recent article entitled “Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements” (Annals of Internal Medicine, Dec. 17 2013) claimed that most supplements have no clear benefit and may even be harmful. But what does all this mean for the nearly 40% of Americans who take multivitamins and those who recommend them?

When any nutritional or medical news report surfaces, it is important to understand the specific conditions and type of individuals the article is written about. In this case, the article focuses specifically on the use of vitamin and mineral supplements as a way to prevent chronic disease; it is not about people with deficiencies, but rather well-nourished adults taking multivitamins for preventative measures. Specifically, the article addresses the effectiveness of vitamins and minerals in preventing early death, cancer, and heart disease, reducing cognitive decline, and helping people who have had one heart attack avoid another. If you are not taking supplements for any of those purposes, this article probably does not pertain to you. In addition, many of the participants in the studies that this report is based on are older, healthy males, who are highly-educated and well-nourished. When a study is conducted with a specific group of people, the results may not be applicable to the general public or be relevant to your particular needs.

This article is in response to the growing number of healthy, well-nourished supplement consumers in the United States, the majority of whom do not have evidence of deficiencies and are taking supplements that go beyond their daily needs. The article cautions that contrary to general opinion, more is not necessarily better. In fact, recent studies have shown that high doses of certain supplements, such as vitamin E and vitamin A, may cause cancer, liver damage, or death; however, these studies are specific to high doses of supplements that exceed the recommended requirements.

The recent news on multivitamins claims that supplements are ineffective, and potentially harmful, when consumed by well-nourished individuals to prevent chronic diseases; however, there is a place for multivitamins in the diet if they are correcting nutritional deficiencies. Multivitamins can be an effective way to supplement dietary intake if you are having trouble meeting your nutritional needs from food and there are gaps in your diet.

The bottom line: if you don’t have a reason to take multivitamins, don’t waste your money on them; but if you do have a reason to take them, don’t be scared off by the recent headlines.