If you’re already eating a balanced diet that contains four to five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, you’re probably getting most of your daily requirement of vitamins.
A study done on realage.com showed that out of 15 million people who reported their diets, only 80,000 (approx 0.5%) were getting the right amounts of vitamin B6, B12, Folate and vitamin D. They were also not getting the right amounts of minerals like Calcium and Magnesium. This could be happening for a multitude of reasons but the most common reasons are likely stress and our fast paced lifestyle that prevents us from eating healthier foods.
If you can’t eat a balanced diet, then a multivitamin may be a good investment for you. Get a multivitamin that provides no more than 100% of the daily value of vitamins and minerals. Taking more than 100% of the daily value (RDA) for some vitamins and minerals can be toxic.
Overall, there is little evidence in clinical trials that multivitamins can reduce your risk of dying of cardiovascular disease or any other disease for that matter1. However, one study done in the U.S 2 showed that those who took a multivitamin daily for 3 years were 35% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease over the next 20 years when compared to those who did not take a multivitamin. Women benefited even more from a multivitamin in this study because they were 44% less likely to have had a cardiovascular related death. Even more interesting, those in the study who took a multivitamin with minerals, as opposed to no minerals or no multivitamin, were the only ones who benefited.
When selecting a multivitamin you should aim for a two-a-day supplement. Our bodies can only absorb and use only a certain amount of the vitamins and minerals from a supplement at a time. Taking only one pill per day may rob you of the full benefits because we urinate out what we don’t use. If you take a multivitamin that only requires you to take 1 pill per day, you can break the pill in half and take one half in the morning and the other half in the afternoon. This allows you to get more of the benefits from the multivitamin throughout the day.
Not all multivitamins are created equal. Some brands might not contain the listed amount of vitamins and minerals, tablets may not dissolve properly in your stomach, or in some cases, brands may provide more of a vitamin or mineral than what’s listed on the label. This may sound like a good deal but in this case too much of a good thing may be a bad thing since some vitamins can be toxic in high doses.
Make sure you select a multivitamin that’s appropriate for your age and gender. There are multivitamins formulated for men, women, teens, pregnant women (prenatal), children and seniors over the age of 50. The amount of nutrients can vary depending on the formulation. If you have a medical condition or chronic illness you should speak with your doctor first about taking a multivitamin supplement.
There are many brands out there so make sure to choose wisely. Do your research or ask your pharmacist for help selecting the right multivitamin for you. Consumerlab.com found in their tests that a higher priced multivitamin (per capsule or pill) did not necessarily mean you would get a higher quality product. They also found that many of the products that passed their tests were some of the lowest costing brands while several products that failed were some of the most expensive. Companies regularly change their ingredients and formulations so it’s a good idea to check the ingredients once in a while. If you have any food allergies you should also be aware about the ingredients used as a binder in the pills or capsule.
It’s important to note that studies are also showing that multivitamins may not be as helpful as they claim to be. Especially in the mega doses of vitamins that most manufacturers put in their products. Mega-doses of vitamins (over 100% of the RDA) may actually hurt instead of help. They do not prevent heart attacks or strokes and many other health issues. What they may do, however, is increase your risk for disease; the opposite effect of what they were intended for in the first place. High doses of vitamins like vitamin E, can increase your risk for cancer by acting as a pro-oxidant instead of an antioxidant in high doses. There is some evidence emerging that vitamin C may do the same thing.
What to look for:
- 100 % of the RDA
If you must take vitamins go for a brand that gives you 100% of your daily value of all vitamins (and minerals) and not more than that. Avoid the mega-doses.
- Seal of Approval
Choose products that have the U.S. Pharmacopeia Dietary Supplement Verification Program (USP-DSVP) seal.
These seals indicate that the amounts and strengths of the ingredients listed are what they say they are and the product will dissolve within 30-45 minutes after taking it. The seal also indicates that the product contains the ingredients listed on the label in the amount that is stated. NSF international is another organization that ensures products are up to code. Look for one or both of their seals on the bottle of multivitamins or supplements. It’s important to note that manufacturers volunteer to have their products checked by the USP-DSVP and NSF. Just because one or both of these seals are not on the bottle does not necessarily mean the product may be faulty.
You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for good multivitamins. Consumerlab.com found that some of the cheapest multivitamins out there passed all of their tests. As of December, 2015; 21st Century® Sentry Multivitamin and Multimineral supplement and Kirkland Signature™ Daily Multi were the cheapest multivitamins (price per tablet) that met all their standards. It’s important to note that not all brands contain what you may need in a supplement so price should not be your number one criteria. Be informed and choose wisely.
- Park, Song-Yi, et al. “Multivitamin use and the risk of mortality and cancer incidence The Multiethnic Cohort Study.” American journal of epidemiology (2011): kwq447.
- Bailey, Regan L., et al. “Multivitamin-Mineral Use Is Associated with Reduced Risk of Cardiovascular Disease Mortality among Women in the United States.” The Journal of nutrition 145.3 (2015): 572-578.
- 5. Willett, Walter C., and Meir J. Stampfer. “What vitamins should I be taking, doctor?.” New England journal of medicine 345.25 (2001): 1819-1824.