Multivitamin-Multimineral Supplements and Longevity


I’ve long advocated taking multivitamins and multiminerals as an older athlete. Why? Because despite eating a healthy balanced diet full of fruit and vegetables, a hard training athlete of any age needs to ‘cover their bases’. Thus, a typical multivitamin and multimineral supplement that has moderate levels of B-group vitamins and sprinkling of other vitamins and minerals just gives me the piece of mind that I am getting the nutrients I need to keep training and performing.

Some research published in 2011 from The Iowa Woman’s Health Study showed an increased risk of death in 38,772 older women with an initial average age of 61.6 years  were regular supplementers and tracked since 1986. This study showed that regular use of multivitamins increased the risk of death by 2.4% compared to non-users. Increased risk of death in other vitamins and minerals included vitamin B(6) (4.1%), folic acid (5.9%), iron (3.9%), magnesium (3.6%), zinc (3.0%), and copper (18.0%) were associated with increased risk of total mortality when compared with corresponding nonusers. in contrast, use of calcium reduced mortality by 3.8%. However, this study was clouded by the fact that supplement use was higher in those with a history of disease and therefore more likely to pass away. So what does research say about regular use of multivitamins and multiminerals and how long we live for?

The Research

A group of Australian scientsist from Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology performed a large (meta-) analysis of all the vious research studies examining longevity and multivitamin and multimineral use. 21 eligible studies (91,074 people and 8794 deaths) investigated daily multivitamin-multimineral supplementation for ≥1 y. Studies using people described as institutionalized or as having terminal illness were excluded.  The scientsists used sophisticated statistical analysis to determine what we call the relative risk (a ratio of the probability of the event occurring in the exposed group versus a non-exposed group) of death.

The Results

The average age of the sample was 62 years and the average duration of supplementation was 43 months. Across all 21 studies, no effect of multivitamin-multimineral treatment on all causes of death was found. Furthermore, use of multivitamin-multimineral supplements had no effect on mortality due to vascular causes (eg. stroke, heart disease) or cancers.

The So What

This very rigorous study highlights that use of multivitamin-multimineral supplements won’t help us live longer. However, in older athletes who train regularly, use of a multivitamin-multimineral supplement that has a range of vitamins and minerals included in them should be considered. Importantly for older endurance athletes or those who train hard and often, multivitamin-multimineral supplements should be considered. For the most definitive discussion related to sports nutrition for older athletes that you will ever read (biased as I am!) check out Chapter 16 (Nutrition for the Masters Athlete) of my book The Masters Athlete, now available online in pdf format as a whole book or chapter by chapter. Also strongly consider a visit to a sports dieticiano have your own dietary needs and food intake analysed by a professional. In Australia you can find one by clicking here. In the USA, click here, and the UK here.

Source: Macpherson, H. and others (2012). Multivitamin-multimineral supplementation and mortality: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Dec 19. [Epub ahead of print]