Twenty years ago few people took nutritional supplements. At the time, physicians were trained to dismiss all supplements- except during pregnancy or to alleviate an obvious nutritional deficiency. They were taught that if one ate a good diet, they did not need a vitamin and mineral supplement. Besides, the largest worry around supplements they had was in getting “too much”. Even today research on vitamins bring on scary headlines, showing up recently in the headline of Public Citizen's Worst Pills, Best Pills newsletter (Oct. 2012): "Dietary Supplements Offer Little to No Benefit and May Be Harmful."
Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to scientifically study long-term benefits and/or adverse effects of taking vitamins. People are quite variable in their eating habits and lifestyle choices, and most studies, including the well known Iowa Women’s Health Study are observational studies based on questionnaires and memory. Other studies based on single ingredients such as vitamin E or beta-carotene are also difficult to evaluate. Each cell in our body acts as an intricate factory, using a wide variety of nutrients in synergy for every vital function needed for life. When either a deficiency or an imbalance of vitamins and minerals occur, the whole production begins to fail. The problems could be minor or they could be major, but it is logical that these imbalances lead to subsequent health issues.
More reliable studies are randomized control trials where one group of subjects is randomly assigned to take a pill and another group gets a placebo pill. Results from just such a prevention trial [JAMA, Nov 2012] determined that daily multivitamin supplementation modestly but significantly reduced the risk of total cancer in men. The same group is studying effects of a multivitamin on cardiovascular events, eye disease, and cognitive decline. It will be quite interesting to see these results published later this year.
In the meantime, a quality multivitamin and mineral supplement is an inexpensive way to insure that your body's cells have the optimal levels of nutrients to function. Baby boomers especially need to supplement their diet. As we age, our bodies generally have more difficulty pulling the nutrients out of our food and into the bloodstream. Plus, due to prescribed medications and general health issues, we have an increased need for certain nutrients. For these health benefits and others, baby boomers should be adding a quality multivitamin to their daily regimen.