Myth: anyone could benefit from a multivitamin
In the early 1900s, vitamin-deficiency diseases weren’t unheard-of: these days, you’re extremely unlikely to be seriously deficient. Most packaged foods are vitamin-enriched. Sure, most of us could do with a couple more daily servings of produce, but a multi doesn’t do a good job at substituting for those. “Multivitamins have maybe two dozen ingredients – but plants have hundreds of other useful compounds,” says Dr Marian Neuhouser. “If you just take a multivitamin, you’re missing lots of compounds that may be providing benefits.”
Myth: a multivitamin can make up for a bad diet
An insurance policy in a pill? If only it were so. One study in the Archives of Internal Medicine looked at findings from the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term study of more than 160,000 midlife women. The data showed that multivitamin-takers are no healthier than those who don’t pop the pills, at least when it comes to the big diseases – cancer, heart disease, stroke. “Even women with poor diets weren’t helped by taking a multivitamin,” says study author Dr Neuhouser.
Myth: vitamin C is a cold fighter
In the 1970s, Nobel laureate Linus Pauling popularised the idea that vitamin C could prevent colds. Today, pharmacies are full of vitamin C-based remedies. But don’t get dragged into the hype. In 2013, researchers analysed a raft of studies going back several decades and involving more than 11,000 subjects to arrive at a disappointing conclusion: vitamin C didn’t ward off colds, except among marathoners, skiers, and soldiers on subarctic exercises. The nutrient might help you heal from a cold a day faster, but taking C only after symptoms crop up doesn’t help; researchers conclude that patients can decide for themselves whether year-round pill-popping for minimal benefit is worth the money.