Although you should try to get your recommended dietary allowances of vitamins and minerals from food, the American Dietetic Association and the National Institutes of Health say you may need supplements if you are:

  • Over age 50. You may need vitamin B12 and calcium, commonly low in older adults, and vitamin D, which is harder for skin to synthesize from sunlight as we age.
  • A postmenopausal woman. You may need extra calcium and vitamin D to keep your bones strong.
  • Dark skinned or have limited sun exposure (less than 15 minutes a day). You may not be getting enough vitamin D from the sun alone.
  • Frail or elderly and unable to eat sufficient amounts of food. A poor appetite or illness may prevent you from getting essential nutrients.
  • Suffering from nutritional deficiencies from a restricted diet. If you have a food allergy, are a vegan or have undergone weight-loss surgery, for example, you may not be able to get all your nutrients from food.
  • Suffering from a medical condition. Some illnesses, such as cancer, anemia and celiac disease, cause nutritional deficiencies and require therapeutic doses of supplements.
  • Undergoing medical treatment. Some medicines, such as cancer drugs and proton pump inhibitors, can interfere with nutrient absorption or use.
  • Diagnosed with a chronic illness for which supplements are part of treatment. People with age-related macular degeneration, for example, may benefit from high doses of certain vitamins and minerals to slow vision loss.

According to our sister publication Diabetes Focus (Fall 2014), about one-third of Americans take a daily multivitamin, but there's surprisingly little good clinical evidence to support the claims made for them. Despite the lack of evidence supporting their use in the general population, experts at the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter say multivitamins makes sense for

  • Vegetarians or vegans (People who eat no animal products may not get enough vitamin B12, iron, zinc, and calcium.)
  • People on prolonged weight loss diets (Those on very low-cal diets or other restrictive eating regimens may fall far short in nutrients. The same goes for people recovering from surgery or suffering from a serious illness that disrupts normal eating.), and
  • Older people (People over 65 may benefit from a multivitamins because they tend to have a harder time absorbing certain nutrients and they are more likely to take medications that block absorption of some nutrients.)
  • Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50; Updated by Remedy Health Media

    Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

    Published: 17 Jul 2013

    Last Modified: 17 Mar 2015