I get a lot of questions about multivitamins ranging from wondering how important they are, to what makes some better than others, to what one should look for in a good in a top-quality multivitamin. Here are some answers.
Are multivitamins really necessary?
Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are essential for good health and support almost every function of the body. They help to convert food to energy, build and repair damaged tissues and DNA, manufacture neurotransmitters and hormones, break down and detoxify environmental pollutants and medications, and support growth and reproduction. Unfortunately, even the best diet cannot guarantee optimal nutrient levels due to high-volume farming methods, soil depletion, chemical fertilizers, and the use of pesticides. In addition, processing, storing, and cooking food further reduces food’s nutrient content. Other factors such as environmental toxins, stress, aging, health conditions, medications, and lifestyle habits can also increase one’s requirement for vitamins and minerals.
Vitamin deficiencies are common, especially among elderly individuals. Deficiencies of B vitamins, vitamin D, and antioxidants (vitamin A, E, and C) pose a risk factor for developing chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, colon and breast cancer, age-related macular degeneration, as well as osteopenia and fractures.
Therefore, nutrition experts as well as the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA 2002;287:3127-3129) agree that a multivitamin/mineral supplement should be taken daily. However, when it comes to taking a multivitamin, not all products are created equal. Many mass-marketed multivitamins contain unnecessary binders and fillers, artificial colors, preservatives, and provide nutrients that are poorly absorbable and are even in synthetic forms.
What marks a good multivitamin?
A good multivitamin, such as Village Green’s Pathway Multi Two, is one that is carefully formulated to contain vitamins and minerals that are readily absorbed, transported, and utilized by the body and activate the body’s metabolic processes. It also contains synergistic cofactors that aid in absorption, uptake, utilization, and metabolism of the nutrients. Because the numbers for the recommended daily allowance (RDA) represent lower limits, these amounts may not meet the requirements for all individuals. Therefore, a high-quality multivitamin will often contain higher amounts of certain nutrients. For example, the current recommendation for vitamin D is far too low for most people to achieve optimal health. You will therefore see vitamin D levels, and often B vitamin levels too, higher than the RDA.
I recommend choosing a multivitamin formula from a company that is highly respected and trusted, such as a practitioner brand. These companies comply with FDA-required current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) regulations and provide third-party verification on their products. Their multivitamin formulas will also contain a properly balanced combination of essential nutrients that are in the purest, most bioavailable forms, optimal amounts, without any unnecessary additives, preservatives, common allergens.
What are some key things to look for in a multi?
A high-quality multivitamin formula may include the following:
• Coenzyme forms of all of the B complex vitamins. Because coenzyme B vitamins do not need to be converted by the liver, they are fully activated for maximum absorption and assimilation into cells. Enhanced utilization can make a big difference in energy levels and health benefits. For example, human urinary excretions of methylcobalamin (coenzyme B12) is about one- third that of a similar dose of cyanocobalamin (non-coenzyme B12), indicating substantially greater tissue retention and absorption.
• Minerals in several different carriers (citrates, malates, glycinates, picolinates, etc). This is designed to give the body choices for enhanced absorption. It is best to avoid mineral forms, such as carbonates or oxides, due to their poor solubility and bioavailability.
• The most absorbable and usable forms of the fat-soluble vitamin group, including vitamin A (as natural beta-carotene), vitamin E (as d-alpha tocopherol succinate and mixed tocopherols), vitamin D3 (as cholecalciferol), and two forms of vitamin K (K1 as phylloquinone and K2 as menequinone-7).
• A minimum of excipients, fillers, lubricants, etc., that exert deleterious effects in some individuals.
• Exclusion of ingredients such as wheat, dairy, corn, soy, and egg, as they have well-known antigenic properties that may be associated with allergy or delayed hypersensitivity reactions. Also formulas that contain no GMOs.
Is a one-daily multivitamin okay?
To maximize a multivitamin’s benefits, it is best to choose a formula that is designed to be taken throughout the day, rather than a one-per-day formula.
Should I take my multivitamin with food?
Yes. Best taken with food, a 2-per day or 4-per day formula can be taken with breakfast, lunch, or dinner to help optimize nutrient absorption.
What are some examples of the different types of multivitamins?
Children’s specific multivitamins are designed to provide nutrients in balanced amounts for their growing bodies and are available as pleasant tasting liquids, chewables, or small tablets/capsules. Some multivitamin formulas are geared to men’s and women’s different needs. For example, they may provide support for prostate health, hormone balance, bone health or cardiovascular health. Other multivitamins are designed for condition-specific support, such as blood sugar management, pregnancy/lactation, thyroid balance and healthy aging. And, some formulas are free of certain nutrients such as iron, copper, or iodine and are meant for individuals who need to avoid these nutrients.
How do I know which multivitamin formula is best for me?
Because it may be overwhelming deciding which supplement is best for you, I highly recommend consulting with a nutrition expert who can provide great guidance in this process, especially if you are taking medications or have a health condition. A nutritionist will take into account possible drug/nutrient interactions and depletions and can help to ensure the safety and efficacy of a particular formula. He/she can also recommend lab testing, which can be a helpful tool in determining specific amounts of nutrients that you need. It is also possible to have a compounding lab create a custom vitamin and mineral formula that is tailored for you. This can enhance compliance and ensure that you are getting exactly what you need.
Photo from here, with thanks.