By Alane Palmer, ND, CNC
Choosing a multivitamin supplement can be puzzling. It is also helpful to know if a multivitamin is a good idea, or a waste of money. Conflicting messages abound in the marketplace, especially on the Internet. And, as expected, the confusion is not helped by reports from the media that tend to overemphasize observational studies that confirm bias against vitamin supplementation. The reality is that the quality of multivitamin supplements ranges widely and we are all created differently and may not benefit from the same vitamin supplement.
A proper review and critique of multivitamin supplements should be based on how well it reflects positions of scientific consensus on dosage, forms, and delivery. A few of the things to look for in a supplement are these:
Quality – According to a recent Consumer Labs report, one in three supplements either contained fewer nutrients than promised on the label, provided far more nutrients than claimed, had incorrect labeling of ingredients, or just failed to disintegrate in the allotted time for proper absorption. If uncertain about whether or not a supplement actually provides what it claims to, it’s probably a supplement to avoid. Take a multivitamin only if it comes from a reputable company that tests label claims through an independent laboratory. See our links on our online store for reputable lines of vitamins like Xymogen, Numedica and Metagenics.
Efficacy – It’s well-known that some forms of vitamins or minerals are more stable, or more bio-available than others. For example, natural vitamin D3 exhibits greater retention in the body compared to synthetic vitamin D2 (1). Likewise, vitamin E in its natural form of d-alpha tocopherol provides greater activity than its synthetic mixture counterpart, dl-alpha tocopherol, which contains only a small percentage of the natural form (2). Another example is vitamin B12 as hydroxycobalamin, which is more tolerable for most people.
Optimal dosages – Multivitamin supplement makers will often add a mineral such as calcium or an antioxidant such as coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) to help it sell better in the marketplace, but not in high enough doses to strengthen bones or support the heart. Such supplements should be avoided in favor of others that supply enough of each nutrient to truly be effective. Similarly, should a supplement contain omega-3 fatty acids, it should contain a high enough concentration of both DHA and EPA for heart health. In short, dosages should reflect the latest that science has to offer as recommendations for health and longevity.
Solubility – Have you heard of “bed pan bullets”? That’s what doctors used to call tableted multivitamin pills that passed through the body un-absorbed. Science has come a long way to provide technologies for better solubility, but there still are a few multivitamins on the market that don’t disintegrate appropriately enough to be absorbed properly. The standard for a quality multivitamin tablet is to disintegrate within 60 minutes or less in an acidic solution mimicking the environment in the stomach—even better is if it can dissolve easily in plain water or rice vinegar.
Absorption and bio-availability – Companies make misleading claims when they market their supplements as more highly absorbed or bio-available because they are from, or combined with, “whole food” or “vegetable components.” For one thing, the source of their vitamins is not different than anyone else’s, which is obtained through yeast fermentation. The “whole-food” source supplements also seldom meet label claims or stability for shelf life. Also, they they don’t account for anti-nutrient components. For example, a supplement containing leafy green vegetables such as spinach may also contain anti-nutrient compounds called oxalates that inhibit absorption of other minerals in the supplement through chelation (that’s not to say people should avoid eating spinach, but that improved absorption and bio-availability from a spinach supplement is false) (3). There are also supplements on the market (obviously not designed by nutritionists familiar with the science) that completely disregard well-known absorption problems when dosages of minerals such as calcium are too high, or when mineral competitiveness occurs between iron, calcium, zinc, and copper (3 & 4). A quality supplement will use forms of minerals without absorption-inhibiting anti-nutrients and have an appropriate amount of minerals in each tablet to be taken in divided doses over the course of the day.
Before choosing a multivitamin keep in mind these 5 points in mind. Is a multivitamin a good idea or not for you? Do your research and ask questions of where your vitamins come from. Whole food sourced vitamins are different than chemically made and support your body in ways you never knew.
Remember, don’t be fooled by the nutrient amounts, or an unusually low cost (could mean synthetic nutrients used), or RDA (required daily allowance) claims by the manufacturer. This information may be misleading. For some vitamins and minerals the RDA is too high, and for many, the RDA is too low for today’s optimal health. You could be not only wasting your time and hard-earned money but not taking proper control of your health as well.
The best thing is to find out exactly what YOUR body needs as far as vitamins. Most people can take a good multivitamin but they may need extra CoQ10, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Omega, antioxidants, etc to support their body optimally. We offer a comprehensive micronutrient vitamin test that tells you your TRUE nutrient levels. Along with a full-color chart and test results, you will receive a personal protocol stating the amounts of vitamins YOUR body needs.
Take out the vitamin guess work and get tested today! Only take the vitamins your body needs.
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Medical disclaimer: Our tests cannot be used to diagnose, treat or cure any disease. All test results are to be used as educational materials and as a guide to help support your overall health and wellness. Always discuss health concerns with your medical doctor.
Food and Nutrition Board. Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference intakes. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2000, pp. 186-283.
Heaney R et al. Vitamin D3 is More Potent Than Vitamin D2 in Humans. J Clin Endocrin & Metab. 2011;96(3):E477 doi: 10.1210/jc.2010-2230
Gropper SS, Smith JL, Groff JL. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2009.
Hoffman H et al. Zinc-induced copper deficiency. Gastroenterology 1988; 94:508-12.