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Are Centrum Multivitamins Dangerous?

Question:
I read an article stating that some of the ingredients in Centrum multivitamins may be dangerous or toxic. Is that true?

Answer:
The safety of certain ingredients in some Centrum multivitamins - especially binders, fillers and coloring agents - has been questioned on various websites. These ingredients are not unique to Centrum vitamins but are found in many brands of multivitamins and other supplements and include polyethylene glycol, polyvinyl alcohol, BHT, modified corn starch, and coloring agents such as Yellow 6 Lake and titanium dioxide.

ConsumerLab.com has reviewed the evidence regarding the safety of these ingredients (which are listed as "Other ingredients" on supplements and as "Inactive ingredients" on medicines to distinguish them from "Active" ingredients). It is true that in amounts higher than that used in Centrum supplements, some of these ingredients can have dangerous or toxic effects. More information about these ingredients is found in our review article about Inactive Ingredients. Note that some ingredients, such as certain coloring agents, may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.

In the amounts in which they occur in Centrum multivitamins, they are safe. By law, any inactive ingredient added to a supplement must be an FDA-approved food additive or generally recognized as safe (GRAS).

Centrum multivitamins also contain calcium in the form of calcium carbonate and this, too, has been mentioned as a concern on some websites. However, calcium carbonate (the form found in oyster shells and most commonly used in supplements and antacids), is not inherently unsafe. While there are some differences to consider when choosing which form of calcium to take, the potential for issues such as increased risk of heart attack with large servings of calcium and interactions with medications and other minerals is not limited to calcium carbonate, but includes any supplemental calcium.

You can check the full list of ingredients for each product tested in ConsumerLab.com's Review of Multivitamin and Multimineral Supplements (and in any of our many other Product Reviews) by clicking on "Ingredients" underneath the product name in the first column of the results table. In the results table, itself, we also point out if a product is free of artificial colors, flavors, and/or preservatives, or has other special features, such as being gluten-free.

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Comments
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John11526   December 28, 2016
There are many GRAS or FDA approved products which does not mean that these are necessarily safe. There are many drugs that are FDA approved that have black box warnings which have not been taken off the market are are very much a danger to some individuals. The excipients in your answer are cause for concern no matter if they are in small amounts. That is to say, an individual may be getting these same excipients in other foods throughout the day. There's no research that sets a limit to what is safe or unsafe. In short, I believe there's enough research against the excipients in your answer, to warrant extreme caution. These dyes are banned in Europe and corn starch is GMO. BHT also banned in parts of Europe and linked to cancer. Do I really think a little of this everyday in my multi won't hurt me? I personally had an extremely severe reaction to polyethylene glycol, a known nervous system toxicant. The FDA says so...as they warn against taking Miralax which contains this toxic preservative. This is just another example of an "approved" exicipient that they warn the public about, but yet it is still "approved". So, in short, we must all do our own research and decide for ourselves how much or how little of these toxic excipients we wish to risk taking.

ConsumerLab.com   January 5, 2017
Hi John - We agree with you that it is important to question the ingredients in products. We should note, however, that some of the things you wrote are not quite correct. For example, there are limits on the amounts of excipients permitted in products. In addition, while concern has been raised regarding the product Miralax, the FDA has not warned against its use but it investigating its effects on children: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/06/science/scrutiny-for-a-childhood-remedy.html?_r=0

John11572   January 5, 2017
I respectfully differ with you. You misunderstood the text. I am saying that it is impossible to know how many excipients one is ingesting throughout the day from various other sources. The "research" doesn't take this into account, and therefore may be valid (safe) for ingesting one source of these exicipients, but nonetheless is not valid as a whole, in sum.

Arch8510   March 9, 2016
Centrum and other old brands of vitamins have very weak concentrations as I remember. I go with a more modern formula. The coloration is of no benefit, even if harmless, but only to make the pills look a certain way.

ConsumerLab.com   March 11, 2016
Hi Arch - As discussed in the "What CL Found" section of the Multivitamin Review (https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/_/multivitamins/#whatCLfound), Centrum products tend to provide the daily requirements of vitamin and minerals, as opposed to more (such as in "high-potency" or "mega" vitamins). We do not consider those amounts "weak" for most people, and they balance efficacy with safety. There are situations, however, in which Centrum has added very small amounts of other, non-essential, ingredients which could be considered weak.

This CL Answer initially posted on 3/9/2016. Last updated 8/2/2017.

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