While researching studies and looking for a link (or lack thereof) between multivitamins and cognition for my upcoming book, I came across some interesting ones that I filed away for a rainy day.  Here’s one that tackled this question:  how healthy are people who take multiple supplements for 20+ years compared to those who take none? 

While I consider a few parts of it limited—as discussed below—it’s worth taking into account.  I personally have been a multi-supplement user for 13 years at this point (as of 2021), so I’m curious if there are any long-term risk factors.  Enough prelude, then. I’m referring to the data review paper “Usage patterns, health, and nutritional status of long-term multiple dietary supplement users: a cross-sectional study.” [1]“Usage Patterns, Health, and Nutritional Status of Long-Term Multiple Dietary Supplement Users: A Cross-Sectional Study | Nutrition Journal | Full Text.” Accessed December 2, 2020. … Continue reading

Demographics of multi-supplement users
Image by 200 Degrees from Pixabay

This study pulled data from two major sources:  the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) results of 2001-2002 and 1988-1994, and a survey sent to customers of the Shaklee Corporation who had been active for at least 20 years and who then responded to a survey asking a number of health questions.  Those customers were then physically weighed and measured, and had blood drawn for analysis at a national convention to compare their stats to those in the NHANES group. 

I had never heard of Shaklee so I did some checking. They have an interesting pedigree:  the founder of the company, Forest Shaklee, purportedly made the first vitamin product in America in the early 1900s after collaborating with a Polish scientist who originated the concept.  This corporation was formed in the 1950s to distribute these products, and it apparently lives on, though it’s changed hands many times now.  Anyway, this isn’t a history text, so I’ll leave any further digging to the curious out there and return to vitamins.

They wanted to compare the typical health stats of non-vitamin users with these frequent fliers of the supplement world.  While health markers aren’t ideal for our purposes—I’d have loved to see some cognitive tests in here—it’s still interesting intel.  Here are the demographic highlights of multi-supplement users compared to non-users:

  • They were, on average, about a decade older (average of 63 compared to 53 years).
  • Their BMI measurements were significantly lower by an average of 4 (25.9 VS 29.4). While I hold BMI in low regard for anyone who does even a smattering of resistance training, it’s acceptable for the general population, given how few people do build any muscle.
  • They had much higher education levels: 86% of them pursued post-high school education compared to 54.2%.
  • They had much higher typical incomes: roughly 62% of them made more than $70k/yr., compared to 33% of the non-supplement group.

    Adding all of that up, they tended to be solidly middle class, educated career types.  Now there’s a degree of conflating variables in that with them being, on average, a decade older, you’d expect a higher income, but the rest lines up fairly clearly.

    How about their actual nutrient levels?  I’ll spare you an exhaustive rundown of each one and bottom line it:  they were much higher pretty much across the board.  At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, supplementing nutrients does indeed raise blood levels.  Better yet, for health markers such as total cholesterol, multi-supp users were much more likely to be healthy (0.78 compared to 1.0), have higher levels of HDL/the-good-cholesterol (0.50 compared to 1.0), and even have healthy blood pressure (0.61 VS 1.0).

    There are several issues here, so I don’t take the exact results as gospel.  For one, educated higher income folk typically have better basic nutrient levels, supplements or no supplements.  They’re more likely to exercise, to manage their stress levels better, and in general be healthier.  Given our multivitamin users are solidly in that category, there are some confounding variables on what exactly is causing the effects.

    What I do like seeing in it is that frequent multi-supplements users, over a long 20+ year span, show such consistently better health markers than the non-users.  At the least, this reassures me—and hopefully you—that taking so many is not playing games with one’s health.  I’m just hoping we’ll get a similar comparison of data, but this time giving the subjects cognitive tests to compare brain functioning across this long-time span.


    1 “Usage Patterns, Health, and Nutritional Status of Long-Term Multiple Dietary Supplement Users: A Cross-Sectional Study | Nutrition Journal | Full Text.” Accessed December 2, 2020. https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-6-30