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The Purpose of Multivitamins

By Lisa Porter

Vitamin deficiencies may contribute to a wide variety of health problems, recent research shows. Daily multivitamin and multimineral supplements can help ensure that you get adequate amounts of all essential nutrients. The Harvard School of Public Health refers to the daily multivitamin as a “nutrition insurance policy,” helping you to maintain proper nutrition even when your diet falters.

Filling Nutrient Gaps

A healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat protein and healthy, unsaturated fats should provide all essential nutrients. However, not everyone maintains this optimal diet at all times, and some people may not be able to absorb certain nutrients, such as vitamin B-12, from foods. People who live in northern climates or work indoors during daylight hours may not get enough vitamin D. Multivitamin and multimineral supplements can help fill these nutritional gaps.

Reducing Disease Risk

Once common deficiency-related diseases such as scurvy, pellagra and rickets have become rare in the United States, but vitamin deficiencies may also put you at a higher risk for chronic health problems. Recent research shows that micronutrient deficiencies can cause damage to DNA and may increase the risk of cancer, heart disease and vision problems, notes the Harvard School of Public Health. Vitamin B-12 deficiency can cause permanent nervous system and neurological damage, causing memory loss, confusion, loss of balance, depression and dementia, according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Folic acid helps to prevent neural tube defects in babies, and increased intake of vitamin D helps maintain bone health and reduce your risk of breast and colon cancer, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.


Standard store-brand multivitamin-multimineral supplements work just as well as more expensive, name-brand products, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Choose a multivitamin with the United States Pharmacopeia, or USP, seal on it. While most supplements contain only 400 IU of vitamin D, supplements with 1,000 IU or more of vitamin D may be preferable, notes the Harvard School of Public Health.


Avoid taking more than the recommended dose of any multivitamin. Furthermore, avoid consuming other foods fortified with folic acid if you take a multivitamin containing folic acid every day. While folic acid has important health benefits, too much may cause problems, notes the Harvard School of Public Health. High daily intake of folic acid can mask early signs of vitamin B-12 deficiency, making the condition harder to detect. High folic acid intake may also increase the risk for some cancers, according to a few studies. The Institute of Medicine recommends limiting daily folic acid intake to 1,000 mcg per day to avoid health risks, notes the Harvard School of Public Health.

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