Short answer: Multivitamins are generally great for people in good health but have shown little benefit to those who are negatively affected by various chronic conditions.
Every day, more than one third of adults and one in four children in the United States take multivitamins.
In general, supplement use is much more common among the elderly; statistics show that usage increases with age.
What is a multivitamin and why should you care about it?
Multivitamins are tablets, capsules, powders and liquids made of vitamins, minerals and other ingredients designed to supplement daily nutritional intake.
Although some multivitamins are derived from real foods, many more are made in laboratories all over the world using synthetic ingredients.
To be recognized as a multivitamin in the United States, a dietary supplement must be a combination of at least 3 separate vitamins and ingredients.
There are 16 minerals and 13 vitamins that are essential for good health. Amino acids, herbs and other botanicals are just a few examples. Many of these substances can help hormone growth and improve structural elements within the human body.
What are the benefits of multivitamins?
Many researchers say that taking a multivitamin is a great way to plug nutritional gaps and, according to the Harvard School of Public Policy, vitamins can act as a ‘nutrition insurance policy’ for the human body..
That’s just part of the story.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American will eat only one fruit and two vegetables each day. As a consequence, millions of people do not receive the recommended intake of minerals and vitamins; highlighting the need for multivitamins.
Multivitamins are proven to help adults get enough nutrients to maintain health.
Some people use supplements to compensate for their diet; others require vitamins due to medical conditions or eating habits that limit their intake of certain nutrients.
Multivitamins can also be used to improve the quality of sleep and reduce the risk of serious diseases.
At a time when most of us live incredibly rushed and busy lives, multivitamins offer a quick-fire solution to improve the body and mind of those who include them as part of their regular diet.
Multivitamins: What Exactly Can They Do?
Multivitamins can provide required nutrients to the body that cannot be met from food alone.
According to observational studies, taking multivitamins can help prevent heart disease – the most common cause of death in the world. Studies have found that taking a multivitamin daily for three years reduced the risk of heart disease for females by 35%.
Although the evidence is often mixed, multivitamins are thought to reduce the risk of cancer for men and to provide a boost to the immune system that can prevent symptoms associated with other illnesses.
However, it is important to note that label fraud is common among manufacturers and the amount of nutrients in a multivitamin can vary from what is on the label.
Federal law does not stipulate that dietary supplements need to be FDA approved which essentially means that the multivitamin market is mostly unregulated. According to the FDA, the agency is not currently authorized to review dietary supplements.
What does this mean for you?
It means that you need to pay close attention when trying to choose the right multivitamin. Manufacturers sometimes market multivitamins as a cure or treatment for disease without approval. We’ll discuss this issue in more detail later in the article.
For now, let’s take a closer look at how multivitamins affect the body and mind:
How Multivitamins Affect the Body and Mind
Multivitamins Increase Nutrient Intake
As part of ongoing health initiatives, the Institute of Medicine has outlined what is known as the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). By definition, this calculation establishes the necessary intake to maintain nutritional health for adults in the United States.
However, statistics indicate that most Americans do not get sufficient minerals and vitamins through food; multivitamins can help increase intake of essential nutrients.
In addition, some nutrition experts suggest that relying on food alone for some nutrients is often not possible; a poor diet makes ingesting enough nutrients especially difficult.
For this reason, nutrient deficiency is a common problem. Multivitamins are strongly recommended to ensure that the human body receives enough vitamins and minerals to maintain good nutritional health.
MVM’s Promote Health and Prevent Chronic Disease
In most instances, diet alone is not enough to get the optimal amount of daily vitamin intake leading to vitamin deficiency, thus posing a significant risk for chronic diseases.
For example, a lack of folic acid or vitamin B6 is a specific risk factor for colon cancer, neural tube defects and cardiovascular disease. A low level of vitamin D can contribute to fractures and osteopenia.
Bottomline: multivitamins can bolster the immune system and help prevent some chronic diseases. For this reason, many physicians recommend patients learn more about the use of vitamins and how to identify multivitamins that can improve their health and help to prevent chronic diseases.
The importance of choosing the right multivitamins cannot be overstated.
Without proper oversight, patients can run the risk of ingesting high doses of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A. Attention in this area is especially important for those who are pregnant or nursing.
Multivitamins Can Increase Metabolism and Aid Weight-loss
Losing weight is rarely easy. Contrary to what is stated in many advertisements, you cannot automatically lose weight simply by taking pills and waiting for results.
However, there are certain minerals and vitamins that seem to ensure the body functions in such a way that weight loss is easier. While this list is not exhaustive, carnitine, forskolin, fucoxanthin and bitter orange are some common examples of supplements that claim to aid with weight loss.
Although there is insufficient research to prove the effectiveness of each individual supplement, some experts believe that certain ingredients can increase metabolism and help with weight loss.
How Multivitamins Can Improve Brain Health
Multivitamins can sometimes improve mood and some studies have shown an inextricable link between nutrient deficiencies and mood.
In general, multivitamins seem to help alleviate symptoms of depression. Further studies indicate these supplements can also improve memory for older individuals.
In a recent book by Dr. Richard Isaacson, a Harvard neurologist, the author states that fish oil, vitamin D and B complex vitamins can treat and even help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
But to know how these substances work, you must also understand how multivitamins work:
B Vitamins – High doses of homocysteine, an amino acid, can make the brain vulnerable to a toxic substance called beta-amyloid which is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s. Lowering this level might help fight against Alzheimer’s. B vitamins can supplement these amino acids.
Fish Oil – According to a Health Line, the anti-inflammatory properties of fish oil mean that specific doses of this substance might help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Vitamin D – Studies suggest that more than half the American population is deficient in vitamin D; lack of sunlight is an obvious reason for this. Either way, vitamin D protects the brain against dementia and cognitive decline and multivitamins can supplement for any lack of this particular substance.
Multivitamins & Pregnancy
In a recent article, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) explained that a pregnant woman’s diet should consist of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. As a general rule, it’s possible to get the right vitamins and nutrients during pregnancy solely through regular food intake and a balanced diet. So, although it is important to note that multivitamins are not intended to replace food, including a multivitamin supplement can help account for any lack of vitamins or minerals in a diet.
A prenatal supplement that includes 100% of the recommended allowance for vitamins and minerals is usually recommended.
However, professional guidance from a doctor or nutritionist is recommended to all pregnant women considering adding supplements to their diet since it’s also possible to overdose and exceed the daily maximum for each ingredient or substance.
Multivitamins and Eye Health
Although there is no proof that multivitamins can prevent macular degeneration, studies show that multivitamins can act as vision supplements. Certain ingredients appear to slow down the progression of this condition.
There is also evidence that supplements can reduce the risk of cataracts, another extremely common eye-disease.
How Do You Know If You Need Multivitamins?
If you have a healthy diet, it’s possible to get all the minerals and vitamins you need from food but, however this is quite a rare occurrence.
Instead, supplements can be added to your diet to help compensate for whatever ingredients might be missing from your diet. Ultimately, it all comes down to having the right balance of vitamins, minerals and fats.
Are you consuming enough grains, saturated fats and omega-3 acids?
Let me rephrase the question…
Are you eating enough whole-grain dishes, salmon, walnuts and fatty meats?
Certain food groups are essential for a healthy-nutritional diet. Here are just a few examples of each type:
Whole grains: Barley, brown rice and cereal
Saturated fat: Fatty meats, whole milk and full-fat cheese
Omega-3 fatty acids: Salmon, walnuts and canola oil
A 2015 medical study suggested that whole grain foods can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s or heart disease while improving digestion.
What’s more, limiting saturated fats will also help reduce the risk of heart disease according to MedlinePlus, a division of the National Library of Medicine. At the same time, a diet rich in omega-3 acids can protect against stroke and inflammatory bowel disease.
How to Choose a Multivitamin
When choosing a multivitamin, one needs to differentiate between a good multivitamin and a lousy supplement.
When you identify the vitamins and minerals your diet is lacking, you will likely find hundreds of different dietary supplement options on the market. This makes choosing the right one quite difficult.
For example, pharmaceutical grade is the highest of several grades available for supplements. Getting a prescription is most often the safest way to guarantee high quality.
When choosing dietary supplements, be sure to read the label and take a moment to note the daily values (DV) for every nutrient listed. As a general rule, it’s best to avoid products with 100% DV values for any mineral or nutrient.
Also, it is highly recommended that any supplement you choose should have less than 3,500 international units of vitamin A or retinol. Post-menopausal women should look for products with less than 50% DV for iron.
How Do You Avoid Choosing a Useless Multivitamin?
It is hard to know whether a multivitamin is worth your money without doing a little research. The following guidelines should come in handy when evaluating what multivitamin to add to your daily food intake.
USP Approval – Always make sure that the product is USP verified. This non-profit organization weeds out dishonest brands. In addition, make sure that you verify a multivitamin’s status online: some disingenuous manufacturers have been known to include ‘USP’ on their product even though that organization has not given its approval.
Daily Values (DV) – Try to pick a multivitamin with 100% of the daily value for each ingredient. We recommend choosing vitamins you only need to take once a day.
Micro-nutrients – You need micronutrients such as to keep the body running at an optimal level. Make sure the multivitamins you select have micronutrients in their recipe.
Know Your Personal Needs – Every individual will need a specific amount of nutrients, often depending on your sex and age. For example, older adults need more vitamin D and calcium; pre-menopausal women often need more iron.
Tips for Deciphering a Multivitamin Label
Let’s take a look at some text on labels to help you know what to look for:
100% Natural – Most products include the word ‘natural’ but this can account for a mere 10% of the ingredients. Look for products that are ‘100% plant-based’.
Food Source – If there is no list of food sources on the label, you should avoid the product. Fish, citrus and vegetables are examples of the food sources you want to look for on a label.
Whole Foods – In addition to the source, look for whole foods that contain certain vitamins. For example, acerola cherry contains vitamin C. Look for the food source of the individual vitamins and minerals.
Salt Forms – These are synthetics that increase the stability of a mineral or vitamin. Some examples of salt forms are bitartrate, chloride, nitrate and acetate.
Differences Between Synthetic and Natural Multivitamins
One of the more controversial elements in the discussion about multivitamins is the fact that most supplements are manufactured using many synthetic ingredients.
Simply put, synthetic multivitamins are designed to mimic the way in which natural vitamins work in the body. Natural vitamins are derived directly from plants containing a particular vitamin.
But what’s the difference?
Synthetic vitamins do not have the transporters that are associated with natural vitamins. That is to say, they are ‘isolated’ and cannot be recognized by the body in the same way as natural vitamins.
Vitamins in their natural form come in packages with other enzymes and minerals which the body instantly recognizes and uses accordingly.
How Many Forms of Multivitamins Are There?
We mentioned earlier that multivitamins come in several forms. Here are the most common ones:
Capsules – Capsules are pieces of gelatin that hold together the ingredients of a multivitamin. These usually come in the shape of a small cylinder.
Soft-gels – Similar in appearance to capsules, soft gels have a liquid-fill and can be made opaque to protect the ingredients against light.
Gummies – Gummy tablets are chewable. Their purpose is to improve the taste of a multivitamin and make them easier to swallow. However, this can also jeopardize the quality of the ingredients.
Tablets – Tablets have the most nutrients. Multivitamin tablets are essentially made of raw vitamins packed down into the smallest form possible.
Liquid – Liquid multivitamins suspend the ingredients in water. This form is often used by individuals who have difficulty swallowing tablets.
Common Fillers and Contaminants in Multivitamins that Should be Avoided
Due to the lack of regulation in this industry, multivitamins can include toxic fillers. These should be avoided at all costs. Here are some of the main substances to look out for in supplement labels:
Artificial Ingredients – The following ingredients are proven to be harmful to the human mind and body: FD&C Blue No. 2, No. 3, No. 40, No 5 and No.6
Hydrogenated Oils (Trans fat) – Trans fat increases lipoprotein which is a risk factor for coronary heart disease. Also, trans fat can have negative effects on other health concerns such as low cholesterol.
Lead, mercury, PCB’s – It should go without saying, but toxic metals and PCBs should be avoided. Sometimes these ingredients can be found in cheap multivitamins. Advisory agencies certainly do not approve of these ingredients.
Titanium Dioxide – Titanium dioxide is sometimes used as a colorant, but it also has many negative health implications.
Talc and Magnesium Silicate – Talc is not food grade according to the FDA. This statement says it all! Magnesium silicate is often compared with asbestos and can pose serious problems to the lungs.
These are just a few examples, they highlight the need for careful consideration when it comes to choosing a multivitamin.
How Do I Ensure I’m Safe Taking my Multivitamin ?
Research and consultation is the only way to ensure that you are taking a multivitamin safely. That being said, here are some of the most relevant and important questions that you can ask a qualified professional:
Is this supplement needed due to a medical condition?
How long do I need to take this supplement?
What are the known side effects?
Which form of vitamin is best for me?
Can I take this vitamin along with other medications?
Remember: you should always consult a professional to discuss this matter before making your final decision.
Unlike most medications, multivitamins are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In many ways, this is the greatest concern with multivitamins. However, with the tips outlined in this article, you should have a good basis from which to stay safe and choose the most effective and beneficial multivitamins.