Despite the fact that millions of Americans take either a daily multivitamin tablet or individual vitamin and mineral tablets, no general consensus exists among health and nutrition experts that these supplements lead to improved health. For certain segments of the population, specific supplement recommendations exist.
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Cultures outside of the U.S. have made use of native plants and herbs for the treatment and prevention of various conditions and diseases--with varying degrees of success. The known history in the U.S. of dietary supplementation with plants and herbs dates back to the Native Americans. In the 20th century, the advent of the ability to create synthetic vitamins changed the face of vitamin supplementation to what is known today.
Balz Frei, director of the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University and a professor of biochemistry and biophysics, takes a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement daily himself, saying, "“I believe everyone should take a multivitamin, all of their life.”
Frei explains his rationale for his personal use of multivitamins and his belief that others should do so, too, by saying, "A multivitamin on one level is good health insurance, a guarantee that you’re not missing out on some vitamin or trace mineral that’s important, but not always covered in your diet."
The October 19, 2000, "Journal of the American College of Nutrition" published the results of a study titled, "The Effects of a Multivitamin/Mineral Supplement on Micronutrient Status, Antioxidant Capacity and Cytokine Production in Healthy Older Adults Consuming a Fortified Diet." The study's conclusions: "Supplementation with a multivitamin formulated at about 100% Daily Value can decrease the prevalence of suboptimal vitamin status in older adults and improve their micronutrient status to levels associated with reduced risk for several chronic diseases."
The Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, or CNPP, a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says, "Many Americans make food choices that do not meet the characteristics of healthy dietary patterns." The CNPP advises that the nutrients most under-consumed by the public that pose "a substantial public health concern" include "vitamin D, calcium, potassium and dietary fiber," for children and adults alike.
Despite the conclusions reached by the CNPP, the recommendation made by this dietary body in relation to the under-consumption of vitamin D, calcium and potassium is: "Recommended intakes of these nutrients of concern, in particular, and of all essential nutrients, in general, should be achieved within the context of flexible dietary intake patterns that balance energy intake with energy expenditure." In other words, the CNPP and USDA recommend dietary changes rather than supplementation with multivitamins.
The December 30, 2009, "Food and Nutrition Bulletin" included a joint study funded by the United Nations and the World Health Organization titled, "Preventing Low Birthweight Through Maternal Multiple Micronutrient Supplementation: A Cluster-Randomized, Controlled Trial in Indramayu, West Java." The conclusion reached by the study: "Multivitamin supplementation use among pregnant women is as effective as iron-folic acid in improving anemia status and appears to have other benefits for maternal and child nutritional status."
When shopping for a multivitamin, Jane Higdon of the Linus Pauling Institute advises that folic acid for women of child-bearing age is known to lower the incidence of spina bifida. Iron is another important nutrient because "iron deficiency is the most common micronutrient deficiency worldwide and is a significant problem in the U.S."
Higdon advises that vitamin D is an important nutrient for a multivitamin to supply because the use of sunscreens and people avoiding sun exposure for fear of developing skin cancer decrease the amount of vitamin D synthesis.