Are vitamin supplements a waste of time?

We were always told to take our vitamins, but now a study shows that this practice may be a colossal waste of time and money. 

A study published in the JAMA Network has found that there is very little evidence taking daily multivitamins extends your life and the practice may actually increase your risk of an early death. 

That may be a blow to the estimated one-third of Australians who take some sort of daily supplement. The Australian supplement market is estimated to be worth $1.8 billion annually. 

The study followed just over 39,000 US adults for more than 20 years to see if there was an association between long-term daily multivitamin use and mortality in generally healthy adults.

And the news isn’t good for people diligently taking their daily vitamin pills.

Instead of living longer because you have all those good vitamins rattling around in your system, it was found that multivitamin users were marginally more likely to die than non-users. 

Higher mortality risk

“We found that daily multivitamin use versus non-use was associated with 4 per cent higher mortality risk,” the study revealed. 

However, the study noted, people with increasing health issues may turn to taking multivitamins in an effort to improve their diagnosis, which could explain the higher mortality risk. 

And just in case you are thinking, “well, what would you expect from a bunch of unhealthy Americans”, the study found no variation across race, ethnicity, education or diet quality. 

However, it’s not all bad news for older Australians.

Before you ditch the vitamins, a commentary published in the study said there was still a place for supplements among those with severe dietary deficiencies. 

“Sailors were cured of scurvy with lime juice, which turned out to be a source of vitamin C. Beri-beri was shown to be preventable by the use of wholegrain rice, which contained a compound, now known to be thiamine, that was lost when brown rice was milled to white rice,” it said.

“While these essential nutrients were in foods, multivitamin supplements soon began to be offered for sale as delivery vehicles for micronutrients.”

General good health

And while multivitamins may not improve mortality rates, they can still play an important part in general good health, especially for older cohorts. 

“Supplementation with betacarotene, vitamins C and E, and zinc is associated with slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration,” the commentary noted.

“In older individuals, multivitamin supplementation is associated with improved memory and slowed cognitive decline.

“Multivitamins may help offset deficiencies following bariatric surgery and commercial products including vitamins B12 and D are a convenient source of nutrients for which many people come up short.” 

But the commentary said that instead of supplements, not including extreme dietary deficiencies and requirements, improving your diet was a much better solution than buying multivitamins. 

“Refocusing nutrition interventions on food, rather than supplements, may provide the mortality benefits that multivitamins cannot deliver,” it said.

It cited the diets in the famous ‘Blue Zones’, where the high intake of fruit and vegetables, cereals and legumes, high social interaction and regular exercise had led to exceptionally high lifespans. 

Do you take daily vitamins? Would this study change your view of that habit? Why not share your opinion in the comments section below?

Also read: Fruit and veg – how much should we really have?

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.


  1. The usual BS, I’ve followed Linus Pauling’s idea from the 1960’s taking daily Vitamin C, D & E and now at 85 look back and can report no colds or flue over that period and a trivial response to Covid – 5 days of nothing. As a retired biochemist I now take Vitamin B’s as the B vitamins are involved in control of homocysteine which is found in the brain of many patients with dementia, Parkinsons etc. Vitamin D is important for immune response and with sunscreen use etc for melanoma prevention you don’t get enough from the sun. In addition the 100IU with Calcium is only to control osteoporosis and not enough to boost your immune system. It was essential to take Vitamin D during Covid as UK and Spanish studies of patients with Covid showed those given 4000IU of Vitamin D didn’t die and didn’t go into ICU.

  2. Agree 100% David. My wife and I take 1 vitamin D capsule, one vitamin C and 1 Catrate supplement for bone health. Every three months our GP gives us a B12 injection. We are both 83 and continue with life without any problems.

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