Dietary supplements are popular for their potential to cover multiple possible nutritional issues. Multivitamins are a type of dietary supplement that can provide many different nutrients that you may not be getting from your diet. But do you really need supplements? Do multivitamins actually help? Should you take a multivitamin every day? Although it is not a common marketing practice, we do not believe that multivitamins are a good investment because they can be a waste of money or, at worst, cause dangerous nutrient toxicities.
Do I need a multivitamin?
No, most likely not. If you have access to many different types of food, you are probably not starving. You can use your cell phone to order a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins with the swipe of a finger. Each of those foods has vitamins and minerals essential for optimal body function, just like you would find in a multivitamin.
However, the Recommended Daily Value is the minimum that a person should consume, not the optimal amount. Multivitamins typically claim to provide more than the minimum amount of the Recommended Daily Value (%DV) of the nutrients listed on their labels. Despite what is written on food labels, you are likely getting more than 0% of the listed nutrients if you have a varied diet. It’s likely that it’s providing most of them.
Should I take a multivitamin every day?
There are some people who could benefit from a multivitamin:
- People who have a very limited or restrictive diet due to personal preferences, lack of availability, or medical conditions should consider a multivitamin, as they are less likely to get adequate nutrients from food alone.
- Those with absorptive disorders or issues with their gastrointestinal tract may also benefit from a multivitamin. Individuals with celiac disease or inflammatory bowel diseases may have a difficult time absorbing adequate amounts of certain nutrients due to damage to the lining of the small or large intestines. A multivitamin could provide an additional boost of nutrients to avoid deficiency.
- Lastly, women who are trying to conceive or are pregnant should be taking prenatal vitamins under the care of their physician. Prenatal vitamins contain higher amounts of particular nutrients that are essential for the healthy development of a growing baby.
Multivitamins can be seen as a way of making sure your nutritional needs are being met, especially if you don’t fall into one of the three main categories. This approach is not typically dangerous, but it is not cost-effective. A multivitamin is an insurance policy that can be expensive and potentially unnecessary. Looking more closely at the contents of a multivitamin can help you determine if it is worth the cost.
What’s in a multivitamin?
Essential vitamins and minerals are found in multivitamins. “Essential” is a key term here, as essential nutrients are ones that humans either cannot produce themselves or cannot produce in high enough amounts to meet the needs of the body. A fun fact is that humans, bats, and very few other animals require vitamin C from their diets—most other animals can produce vitamin C themselves. What essential nutrients are found in a standard multivitamin, and do you actually need them?
Water soluble vitamins.
Water-soluble vitamins are those that are absorbed in the body with water. There are 8 types of B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, folate, biotin, and B12) and vitamin C. The vitamins mentioned are crucial in helping the body convert the food eaten into energy that can be used by cells. Aside from their role in the immune system, vitamins also help with the formation of collagen and the brain and spinal cord.
Fat-soluble vitamins need fat to be absorbed and are stored in the fat tissue and liver. The vitamins that can dissolve in fat are vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fat-soluble vitamins play a key role in many different processes in the body, including cellular protection and growth, calcium absorption, and blood clotting.
Unlike water-soluble vitamins that are excreted in the urine, fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body’s fatty tissue. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, meaning that they can be stored in the body. Because of this, it is possible to reach toxic levels of these vitamins with continuous excessive intake. Toxicity from certain vitamins can have serious side effects, for example, vitamin A. You should not take fat-soluble vitamins as supplements unless you have a deficiency.
Multivitamins also contain two categories of minerals. There are two types of major minerals, those that are needed in large amounts of more than 100mg per day and those needed in smaller amounts. They include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium. Minerals play an important role in many body functions, including bone formation and fluid balance.
Minerals work in a similar way to fat-soluble vitamins in that they accumulate in the body and are not required every day. Eating large amounts of these minerals can be poisonous. Although the recommended intake of calcium for post-menopausal females is higher in order to protect bone integrity and prevent osteoporosis, they may still have difficulty getting enough of certain nutrients. In these cases, targeted supplementation may be warranted.
You only need trace minerals in small amounts, no more than 100mg a day. Minerals that can be traced back to their source are iron, zinc, copper, manganese, iodine, selenium, and molybdenum. The body can store大s量 of trace minerals, so it is possible to consume too many of them.
The mineral iron is often given prominence on supplement shelves. Many people in the United States lack iron, especially premenopausal women, who need high levels of iron. Because iron is essential for our health, many people take supplements, especially women who don’t get enough iron from their diet. While iron deficiency is much more common in women, men are not immune to the condition. Even though iron is very often included in multivitamin supplements targeted to men, it is still not enough. This decision by supplement companies can have detrimental effects: excess levels of iron can be harmful, as it can deposit itself in the soft tissues of the muscles, organs, brain, and joints, causing them to malfunction.
Why a healthy diet should always be the primary source of nutrients?
An idea that is common among some people (especially in Silicon Valley) is that we do not need food and can get all the nutrients we need from a drink like “Soylent Green.”
While some people may believe that consuming nutrient-rich beverages is disgusting and that they are missing out on the pleasure and joy of eating real food, there is no evidence to support the claim that these beverages are unsafe or harmful. In fact, there are several reasons to believe that they are not.
Humans are adapted to getting nutrients from whole foods. In order for nutrients to be properly absorbed, they require enzymes, synergistic co-factors, and organic mineral activators. Synthetic vitamins often lack naturally-occurring nutrients.
In a paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition called Food Synergy: An Operational Concept For Understanding Nutrition emphasizing the importance of obtaining nutrients from whole foods, the authors concluded:
A person or animal who only eats purified nutrients in the amounts listed in the Dietary Reference Intake may not be healthy. The primacy of food over supplements in meeting the nutritional requirements of the population should be stressed.
They warned against the dangers of thinking too simplistically, which is a problem with conventional medicine and nutritional supplements. Instead, they urge us to consider the importance of what they call “food synergy”:
The idea of food synergy is that the different parts of food work together to create an effect that is greater than the sum of the individual parts. The Meaning of this text is based on the combination of different parts in the food, how well those parts stay together during digestion, and how much they affect cells when they are active.
They go on to provide evidence that whole foods are typically more effective than supplements in meeting nutrient needs:
- Tomato consumption has a greater effect on human prostate tissue than an equivalent amount of lycopene.
- Whole pomegranates and broccoli had greater antiproliferative and in vitro chemical effects than did some of their individual constituents.
- Free radicals were reduced by the consumption of brassica vegetables, independent of the micronutrient mix.
It is very important to get nutrients from food. A diet consisting mostly of whole foods will contain the majority of the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that we need to be healthy. These nutrients work together to support our health.
In an ideal world, we would get all of the nutrients we need from food.
Sadly, that is not the world we live in.
Why supplementation may be necessary in the modern world?
There are several challenges that we face today that make getting all of the nutrition we need from our diet difficult. These include:
- Changes in soil quality, which reduce nutrient availability.
- Increases in chronic diseases increase the demand for nutrients and reduce their absorption.
- A shift to a global, rather than local, food system. Nutrient levels in produce begin to decline as soon as a food is harvested, so food that has been shipped for 3,000 miles (common today) has far lower nutrient levels than local food.
- A shift to industrialized agriculture. Organic produce, pasture-raised animal products, and wild-caught seafood generally have higher nutrient levels than conventional produce, CAFO meat, and farmed seafood.
- An increase in toxins like heavy metals and glyphosate in the food supply. These toxins bind to nutrients and decrease their bioavailability.
- An epidemic of chronic stress depletes nutrients and increases our demand for them.
- Over-the-counter and prescription medications (e.g., metformin) that deplete key nutrients and/or affect nutrient bioavailability.
- Greater numbers of people following restricted diets and doing intermittent fasting, both of which reduce nutrient intake.
The result of all of these changes is that most people in the industrialized world are not getting enough essential micronutrients.
How common are nutrient inadequacies?
I’m saying that most people are not getting enough of the vitamins and minerals they need for optimal health. This can lead to chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Those are relatively rare in the modern world. I’m referring to a lack of nutrients, which means not getting the right amount of a nutrient to support optimal health and function.
Nutrient inadequacies are surprisingly common in industrialized countries like the United States. Consider the following U.S. statistics compiled by the Linus Pauling Institute:
– 100% don’t get enough potassium
– 94% don’t get enough vitamin D
– 92% don’t get enough choline
– 89% don’t get enough vitamin E
– 67% don’t get enough vitamin K
– 52% don’t get enough magnesium
– 44% don’t get enough calcium
– 43% don’t get enough vitamin A
– 39% don’t get enough vitamin C
Can multivitamins help? And what to look for if you take one.
My thinking at the time was that since they were eating a relatively healthy diet, they were likely getting the nutrients they needed. I advised my patients not to take a multivitamin because I thought they were getting the nutrients they needed from a healthy diet. I believed that it was preferable to meet our nutrient needs from food, and I encouraged them to make sure that their diet was full of nutrients in order to achieve that goal.
But I have a different perspective now. I have read numerous scientific papers detailing how prevalent nutrient deficiencies are and how severe the consequences can be. I have seen the impacts of this firsthand in my work with patients over the last 15 years.
I believe that a diet consisting mainly of whole foods should be the basis of our nutrient intake. I now believe that a multivitamin is a good idea to make sure we’re getting the nutrients we need to not just avoid disease but to do well in general.
In other words, not all multivitamins have the same quality.
If you just pick a random item off the shelf at the grocery store or drug store, it’s not likely to be helpful and could even be harmful.
With all of this in mind, here’s what you should look for in a multivitamin:
- It should feature food-based, naturally occurring, or bioidentical ingredients.
- It should contain the most active and effective forms of each nutrient.
- It should have adequate doses of nutrients that we fall short of, like vitamin D and magnesium.
- It should not have high doses of nutrients that can be toxic, like iron, iodine, calcium, or alpha-tocopherol.
A varied diet is the best multivitamin you can take. As a personalized nutrition company, we are definitely a bit biased when it comes to multivitamins. We believe in targeted approaches to nutritional deficiencies and inadequacies and always recommend avoiding taking blanket supplements that don’t necessarily address your body’s needs.