Ask the doctor
Q. Are any of those over-the-counter “senior” multivitamins and formulas helpful?
A. Although people spend billions of dollars every year on vitamins, there is little scientific proof that taking multivitamins or special vitamin formulas helps you live longer, feel better, or avoid disease.
In 2014, after a careful review of the research, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended against daily multivitamins for otherwise healthy individuals. Despite this, sales continue to rise.
“Senior” multivitamins resemble normal multivitamins with a few exceptions. For instance, a senior formula may add herbal supplements promoted to improve energy or memory, but these are also unproven. Senior versions often include higher dosages of vitamin D (because dietary consumption and sun exposure decline with age) and vitamin B12 (which is not as well absorbed in older people). They also often exclude iron, because many older adults do not need extra amounts and high levels may be harmful.
If you follow a regular healthy diet, you probably consume plenty of vitamins. The exceptions are individuals with problems absorbing nutrients and those who have poor appetites or diets; these people may benefit from multivitamins. Consult with your doctor if you think this applies to you. Otherwise, for many older adults, spending the extra cash on fresh fruits and vegetables is a wiser and healthier investment.
—William Kormos, MD
Editor in Chief, Harvard Men’s Health Watch