Can daily multivitamin supplements help you live longer?

By Staff 10 Min Read

  • Many people take a daily multivitamin in an effort to promote health and prevent chronic diseases.
  • A new study from the National Institutes of Health suggests that daily multivitamin use may not improve the life span of generally healthy adults.
  • While multivitamins might not enhance longevity in healthy adults, experts say they still benefit specific populations.

New research analyzing data from over two decades and nearly 400,000 participants in the United States suggests that long-term daily multivitamin use may not improve longevity in healthy adults.

About 33% of adults in the U.S. take a daily multivitamin to support their overall well-being, assuming that it may help prevent disease and contribute to a longer, healthier life.

Despite widespread use, previous studies have not found sufficient evidence to determine whether multivitamins actually benefit longevity.

Aiming to address this research gap, researchers at the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Cancer Institute analyzed long-term daily multivitamin use and mortality risk in three cohorts of healthy U.S. adults.

They accounted for influential factors such as healthy diet and lifestyle and reverse causation, where individuals in poor health started using multivitamins.

The new NIH study, published inJAMA Network Open, found no association between regular multivitamin use and a lower risk of death in healthy U.S. adults.

However, multivitamins may still benefit specific individuals, and this observational study has some limitations, so don’t throw away your multivitamins just yet.

The new NIH study aimed to assess the association between multivitamin use and death related to chronic diseases, specifically cardiovascular disease and cancer. It also sought to explore potential factors and biases that could affect the understanding of this association.

The researchers conducted an analysis using data from three large cohort studies in the US:

Their pooled analysis included a combined total of 390,124 generally healthy adult participants aged 18 to 74 at baseline with no history of major chronic diseases.

Participants self-reported their frequency of multivitamin use, from never to daily, and their use of other vitamins, minerals, and supplements.

Based on this data, the researchers categorized participants into three groups:

  • no multivitamin use
  • non-daily multivitamin use
  • daily multivitamin use

The researchers also considered participants’ self-reported diet history, Healthy Eating Index 2015 diet score, smoking status, alcohol and coffee intake, race and ethnicity, education level, body mass index (BMI), physical activity level, and family history of cancer.

Participants were followed for over two decades, with some followed for up to 27 years.

During the study period, there were 164,762 recorded participant deaths, with approximately 30% due to cancer, 21% due to heart diseases, and 6% due to cerebrovascular diseases.

Among daily multivitamin users, nearly half were female, compared to about 40% of nonusers.

Compared to nonusers, daily multivitamin users were also more likely to use other individual supplements and tended to have a lower BMI and better diet quality.

These findings align with previous research suggesting that multivitamins are somewhat more popular among women and that individuals who regularly take them might be a generally more health-conscious crowd.

Multivitamin use did not significantly differ by race, ethnicity, or family history of cancer.

Overall, the researchers found no evidence that regular multivitamin use improved longevity among healthy adults.

In fact, in the pooled analysis, people who used multivitamin supplements daily had a 4% higher risk of death compared to those who didn’t use them.

However, the hazard ratio values suggested no difference in survival between the two groups. This was observed for overall mortality and specific causes like heart disease, cancer, and cerebrovascular disease.

Despite the lack of evidence for longevity, the study authors suggest that daily multivitamin use may still be associated with other important outcomes related to healthy aging, such as supporting cognitive function in older adults.

The research also has some notable limitations. These include the fact that it is an observational study, so it cannot establish cause-and-effect, and there may be factors, like health care utilization, that could affect the results and were not taken into account.

The study authors also noted that they could not define a timeline for the connection between using multivitamins and mortality risk, how the risk changes over time, or the total impact over a person’s lifetime.

Additionally, the study had exclusions based on health status and lacked diversity, so the findings cannot be generalized to the broader population.

Healthy adults with adequate dietary nutrient intake might not benefit from multivitamin use, but daily multivitamins might still be beneficial for individuals of specific populations and age groups.

Medical News Today spoke with Alexandra Filingeri, a registered dietitian and doctor of clinical nutrition who was not involved with the study, about who should consider taking a daily multivitamin, even if it might not be linked to longevity.

“While multivitamins may not be used in disease prevention, they can be used in populations that do not meet the daily RDA (recommended daily allowance) for micronutrients,” Filingeri said.

“For example, those with gastrointestinal conditions such as celiac disease, irritable bowel disease may benefit from daily multivitamin supplementation,” she noted.

MNT also spoke with Kiran Campbell, a registered dietitian who specializes in heart health at Kiran Campbell Nutrition and is a medical nutrition advisor at Dietitian Insights. Campbell was not involved in the study.

“Even if taking a daily multivitamin may not prolong life, they may still have benefits,” such as preventing nutrient deficiencies, especially in vulnerable populations, she affirmed.

“A multivitamin can benefit the aging adult population, over 50 years of age,” helping to prevent nutrient deficiencies related to changes associated with the normal aging process, Campbell said. “In addition, multivitamin use may help protect against age-related cognitive decline and memory loss.”

Campbell noted, based on the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:

“We can see that most adults fall short on our intake of fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, and whole grains. These foods are very nutrient-dense and provide the vitamins and minerals we need to maintain normal bodily functions and promote healthy aging. While a multivitamin may not be the most readily-utilized way to get these nutrients, it may be the most convenient way for some individuals.”

Filingeri added that “[populations] with susceptibility to micronutrient deficiency may benefit from daily supplementation.”

“Your medical doctor and registered dietitian can help you make an educated decision on proper supplementation,” she advised.

Campbell highlighted that no multivitamin is a substitute for an overall healthy diet.

To maintain health and promote longevity, rather than relying on supplements, she recommends focusing on consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods, including:

For inspiration, she said, look to “dietary patterns like the Mediterranean diet or the Blue Zone diet, which are primarily whole-foods plant-based diets. These dietary patterns focus on whole foods along with cultural, behavioral, and social factors as the answer to lifelong health.”

“The optimal way to receive your dose of daily nutrients will always be through a whole foods diet. This is because a diet consisting of mostly whole foods will contain fiber, polyphenols, and other active components that can prevent the development of chronic disease and maintain adequate health.”

— Kiran Campbell, registered dietitian nutritionist

However, Campbell pointed out that in situations where access to fresh produce or high-quality whole foods is limited, multivitamin use may help individuals reach adequate nutrient levels. She said that multivitamins have some valuable applications and “socioeconomic factors also need to be considered when assessing the feasibility of maintaining public health nationwide.”

Ultimately, “[supplements] must be individualized to each person’s specific needs,” Filingeri concluded.

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