Whether Vitamins Are Worth the Money

About half of all adult Americans take a daily multivitamin, according to industry data, but are these supplements really necessary?

ABC News contacted 25 primary care physicians and asked them which vitamins -- if any -- they recommend to their patients.

Most doctors said they do not recommend daily vitamins to their healthy patients, and even among pro-vitamin doctors, some said they viewed one-a-days as a kind of insurance policy on nutrition, but were not wholly convinced they were necessary.

VIDEO: Which vitamins and minerals are essential for good health?
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"There is no compelling indication for adults who eat a well-balanced diet to routinely take a multivitamin," says Dr. Erin Michos, assistant professor of cardiology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Dr. Jeff Susman, chair of family medicine at the University of Cincinnati agrees, saying that "for the vast majority of healthy individuals, vitamins are unnecessary."

He adds, "In the end, our obsession with quick fixes is likely to only cause expensive urine (as these vitamins are passed) and not positively influence health; save up this money and enroll at a gym!"

There is also little to no support for a standard multivitamin recommendation among health organizations.

Recent studies from the National Institute of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services both concluded that there is insufficient evidence to justify recommending daily vitamins for the average, healthy individual.

Similarly, neither the American Academy of Pediatrics nor the American Dietetic Association recommends a multivitamin for kids.

Of course, your standard one-a-day vitamin doesn't hurt either, doctors admit.

As they don't appear to be harmful -- except, maybe, to your wallet -- Susman comments, "If a person wishes to use them, fine," and Michos points out that they certainly couldn't hurt for those of us who are skimpy with the fruits and vegetables.

Overwhelmingly, however, for kids and adults, doctors say that unless you have an underlying reason for a vitamin deficiency, nutrients should come from eating a variety of healthy foods -- not from a gel capsule or a cartoon-shaped chewable.

The Council for Responsible Nutrition told ABC News in a statement that "There is a wide body of scientific research that demonstrates the benefits of dietary supplement products. Dietary supplements should be used as supplements to, not substitutes for, other healthy lifestyle choices."

Click here to read the full statement.

For Those Who Lack, Can Vitamins Pick Up the Slack?

"Patients should get most of their vitamins and minerals via a balanced diet …because foods contain other substances, such as phytochemicals, in addition to nutrients, that are beneficial to health," says Cheryl Williams, a dietician at the Emory Heart and Vascular Center.

Supplementations can be a sort of "insurance on nutrition" says Julie Schwartz, a dietician at Emory Healthcare, "but I'm still going to coach patients...that supplements do not take the place of food (or physical activity, for that matter)."

It's when patients are unable to eat all the food groups or when other health conditions make deficiencies unavoidable that doctors, Schwartz included, say that vitamins should come into the picture.

While healthy eating is the holy grail of good nutrition -- some nutrients are also just plain hard to get from food (at least in sufficient amounts), doctors say.

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