In recent years, the popularity of multivitamins has surged, with millions of people incorporating them into their daily routines. These supplements, which contain a combination of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, are often marketed as a convenient way to fill nutritional gaps, boost overall health and prevent chronic diseases.

However, a new study from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) challenges the efficacy of daily multivitamin use in promoting longevity among generally healthy adults. Researchers analyzed health records from nearly 400,000 adults with no major long-term diseases to see whether daily multivitamins reduced their risk of death over the next two decades. It didn’t. This raises a critical question: Who should be taking multivitamins, if anyone?

Do multivitamins work in healthy adults?

The NIH study finding aligns with previous research suggesting that for the average healthy individual, multivitamins do not provide measurable health benefits. Most healthy adults can get all the nutrients they need through a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. That’s because the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals from food sources is generally higher compared to supplements. So focus on a diet that is rainbow-colored, which means vegetables and fruits of every color, and you will get your daily quota of vitamins.

Who needs multivitamin tablets?

While the general healthy population may not benefit from daily multivitamin use, there are specific groups for whom supplementation can be beneficial or even necessary.

Individuals with Nutrient Deficiencies: Certain medical conditions, dietary restrictions, or lifestyle choices can lead to nutrient deficiencies. For example, individuals with gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn’s disease or Celiac Disease may have impaired nutrient absorption, necessitating supplementation. Similarly, vegans and vegetarians might need to supplement vitamins B12 and D, iron, and calcium, which are less readily available in plant-based diets.

Festive offer

Pregnant and Lactating Women: During pregnancy and lactation, the body’s nutritional needs increase to support fetal development and milk production. Prenatal vitamins, which typically contain folic acid, iron, calcium and DHA, are recommended to ensure both mother and baby receive adequate nutrition.

Older Adults: As people age, their nutritional needs change, and they may have difficulty absorbing certain nutrients. For instance, older adults are often at risk of vitamin D and B12 deficiencies. Supplementing these vitamins can help maintain bone health and cognitive function.

Individuals with Restricted Diets: Those on calorie-restricted diets, those with food allergies, or people following strict dietary regimens (for example keto or paleo) may not get all essential nutrients from their diet alone. In such cases, a tailored multivitamin can help bridge nutritional gaps.

Athletes and Highly Active Individuals: Athletes or those with high physical activity levels may have increased nutritional requirements. While a well-balanced diet can meet most of these needs, supplementation with specific vitamins and minerals can help support recovery and performance.

The key takeaway is that supplementation should be personalized. Rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach, individuals should consider their unique health circumstances, dietary patterns, medical history and most importantly consult healthcare providers. Only they can identify the most beneficial type and dosage. The rest must prioritize whole foods, regular physical activity and routine medical check-ups.

(Dr Chatterjee is senior consultant, internal medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi)