Multivitamin and mineral supplements offer comprehensive health insurance. But how do you choose one right for you? What you need to know now.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Multiple vitamin and mineral formulas today take care of a variety of nutritional needs, and are customized to fit a variety of different requirements and preferences—many are specially formulated according to age, gender, or for dietary plans such as gluten-free or vegan, for example. Some go beyond the recommended daily intake of necessary nutrients, adding probiotics, enzymes, and/or herbs. And most of us take one. The “multi,” or multiple vitamin and mineral supplement, is the most popular of all supplements. Among people who use supplements, 77 percent take a multi, according to research by the Council for Responsible Nutrition.
“Getting optimal nutrients from our food is ideal,” says Adrienne Stewart, NMD, a naturopathic doctor at Integrative Health in Scottsdale, Ariz. “However,” she adds, “it’s not reality for many people.”
A statement underscoring the value of multis by nutrition experts at the Harvard School of Public Health, Tufts University, Oregon State University, and others was recently published in a leading medical journal, the Annals of Internal Medicine. It noted that more than 93 percent of adults in the U.S. do not get the estimated average requirement of vitamins D and E from their diet; 61 percent lack magnesium; 50 percent lack vitamin A and calcium; and more than 40 percent lack vitamin C.
Even if our diets were perfect, the soils in which food is grown are so depleted that our food isn’t likely to provide optimum nutrition. In addition, notes Stewart, “Many prescription medications can deplete key nutrients.” For example, birth control pills deplete B vitamins, and metformin, a widely used diabetes drug, depletes vitamin B12.
Even for very healthy people, multis provide insurance. But with so many different products available today, how do you choose the right one?
Quality and Bioavailability
The best value comes from high-quality ingredients that are easily absorbed. On product labels, look for a statement that the company follows Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), which are standards set by the FDA to ensure purity, consistency of strength, accuracy of labeling, and quality control.
For both quality and bioavailability, Stewart recommends these forms of some essential nutrients:
- Vitamin A from mixed carotenes, rather than synthetic beta-carotene
- Vitamin B6 as pyridoxal 5′-phosphate
- Vitamin D as vitamin D3
- Folate as 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, or 5-MTHF
- Vitamin B12 as methylcobalamin, rather than cyanocobalamin
For minerals, “chelated” forms are considered more absorbable, because they are bound to amino acids, the building blocks of protein, rather than to inert substances. Avoid artificial coloring and flavoring, and unpronounceable additives.
Dosages and Forms
One-a-day multis generally contain only small amounts of essential nutrients, often at or below the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for each. The government considers the RDA to be a sufficient amount to prevent well-known deficiency diseases, such as scurvy from lack of vitamin C or rickets from lack of vitamin D and/or calcium.
Look for “% Daily Value,” or “% DV” listed next to each nutrient. This is the government’s estimated percentage of a day’s requirement for each nutrient, for a person who eats a 2,000-calorie daily diet. The information is designed to help consumers compare nutritional density of different foods, not as a standard for ideal levels of nutrients.
From a holistic perspective, the RDA and DV are insufficient to bring about or maintain optimum health, which is quite a step up from avoiding scurvy or rickets. In general, nutritionally savvy health practitioners recommend multis with higher quantities of nutrients.
Since a single pill can hold only so much, a daily dose of a more nutritionally dense multi requires several pills, or a packet per day. As a rule, it’s best to divide the day’s pills into several servings, at meal times, for example. But the same dose may not always be ideal.
“Dosages vary over time,” says acupuncturist and herbalist Susan Shane, LAc, author of Vitality Fusion. If you’re in great shape, you likely need lower doses of supplemental nutrients, but if you’re recovering from a situation that has depleted your body, such as exhausting travel or a period of extra-long work days, you likely need more.
Shane recommends keeping a record, including what you take, noting amounts of each nutrient, how often you take the product, and how you feel over time. Taking a photo of the Supplement Facts panel with your phone is an easy way to track product ingredients.
What’s Your Type?
Multis are available in capsules, tablets, liquids, powders, and chewables, and some also contain greens, enzymes, probiotics, additional antioxidants, fruits and vegetables in freeze-dried or extract forms, and/or individual herbs or herbal formulas. Raw, organic, gluten-free, GMO-free, and whole food-based products are also available, formulated for women, men, and different age groups.
Your best choice really depends upon personal needs and preferences. Are you more likely to add a powder to a smoothie? Drink a liquid? Or would you rather take pills? Since the best results come from consistent use, the most convenient form—for you—is the best choice.
How to Take Them
When we eat food, our stomachs secrete hydrochloric acid to break it down, and the acid also helps to absorb the nutrients in a multi. If you experience nausea or stomach upset, make sure to take multis with food that includes some fat, which helps to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, such as D and E. Food-based multis generally do not need to be taken with food.
Stewart has found that iron can upset stomachs. She recommends multis without iron for most people, unless a health practitioner has diagnosed an iron deficiency.
Test for What’s Best
Although controversial, muscle testing, or kinesiology, has been used for centuries to determine if a product, food, or substance suits an individual—among several very similar types of multis, for example. Rooted in traditional Chinese medicine’s concept of the body’s meridians (channels of energy), much like acupuncture, as well as individual body chemistry, muscle testing is typically done by a qualified practitioner. However, you can try it yourself at home. It’s done this way: Hold a product in one hand. Extend the other arm straight out to the side and have someone push down on your arm. If your arm is weak (easily pushed down), the product is not for you, according to this system. If your arm is strong, the product is a match.
Bradley Nelson, DC, a holistic chiropractic physician and author of The Emotion Code, recommends holding a product or simply focusing your attention on it, while standing, relaxed. If you feel your body naturally swaying backwards, it isn’t a match, according to Nelson, but if your body sways forward, that product works well with your personal chemistry.
ACTIVZ Complete Whole-Food Multivitamin Shake provides 100% of the RDA for 14 vitamins and minerals, omega fatty acids, plant enzymes, and probiotics in just 2 scoops.
GARDEN OF LIFE Kind Organics Women‘s Once Daily tablets are certified organic, non-GMO, and provide 15 vitamins and minerals derived from whole foods including plant-derived D3 and iron.
NEW CHAPTER Every Man‘s One Daily Multi, with organic herbs and cultured whole-food vitamins and minerals, promotes optimal health and addresses conditions specific to men.
OLA LOA Energy Multi Vitamin Minerals (shown here in Tropical flavor) delivers 36 energizing, cell-renewing nutrients and amino acids in each tasty effervescent packet.
NATURAL VITALITY Organic Life Vitamins packs 24
organic superfruits, veggies, and fruits in a highly bioavailable liquid supplement.