We all know that we need a certain dosage of vitamins and minerals each day in order to maintain health. But the startling truth is that more than 80 percent of American women and 70 percent of American men received less than two-thirds of their Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of one or more nutrients, according to a 2006 USDA survey. For some, taking a multi-vitamin on a daily basis may be the answer to ensuring that you get the vitamins and minerals you need.
What Is a Multi-vitamin?
Multi-vitamins are "all-in-one" pills that contain a combination of vitamins, minerals and trace elements. There are many different types of vitamins and minerals and many different combinations thereof. Dr. Ray Sahelian, a certified family practice doctor who specializes in nutrition, says that there are thousands of different vitamin companies and each one will include a different amount of vitamins and minerals in their products. Some may focus on providing a mixture of antioxidants like vitamins A, E and C in addition to various minerals. Others might concentrate on calcium and magnesium supplements, while some offer a complete range of vitamins and minerals.
However, typical multi-vitamins usually contain protein, vitamin A, D, E, C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folacin (folic acid), B12, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, iodine and selenium plus some other nutrients can be included. Vitamin K, which is involved in blood clotting, is only available by prescription because of toxicity.
Multi-vitamins usually consist of raw U.S.P. (United States Pharmacopeia) ingredients that are individually purchased from a supplier, formulated, blended and then put into pill form. The most common and cheapest method is to compress all the ingredients into a tablet, under 50,000 pounds of pressure. Multi-vitamins can also be encapsulated without compression, and you end up with more pills and bigger bottles. Multi-vitamin supplements are also available in chewable and liquid forms.
Why Should I Consider Taking Them?
There are many different reasons why you should take a multi-vitamin. In general, vitamins help regulate metabolism, help convert fat and carbohydrates into energy, and assist in forming bone and tissue. They can also promote wound healing. But vitamins cannot be assimilated by the body without minerals. While the body can produce some of the vitamins, it cannot produce any of the minerals. All tissues and internal fluids of the body contain varying quantities of minerals. Bones, teeth, soft tissue, muscle, blood, and nerve cells are comprised of minerals. These minerals act as catalysts for many biological reactions within the body, including muscle response, the transmission of messages through the nervous system, the production of hormones, digestion, and the utilization of nutrients in foods.
A healthy balanced diet should provide all the vitamins and minerals you need, but with manufacturing processes that destroy nutrients, food storage methods that allow nutrients to be depleted and the hectic lifestyle of the modern world, which encourages us to depend on junk food, this is often not possible. Taking a multi-vitamin can make up for low vitamin and mineral intake, though it is no substitute for a healthy balanced diet.
Certain groups of people can benefit from taking multi-vitamins to compensate for the loss of important vitamins and minerals. Smokers, pregnant women, those who consume alcohol, older individuals and athletes, those who take certain medications, or those with food allergies, for example, can all benefit from taking multi-vitamins. Vegetarians can also benefit from taking a multi-vitamin, as can those consuming less than 1,200 calories a day to lose weight. If you are under stress or have generally poor nutrition you should also take a multi-vitamin.
If you find yourself in any of these categories you may not be getting the vitamins and nutrients that you need in your diet because of inhibiting factors. A multi-vitamin might be the answer to compensating for that lack.
Many different people can benefit from taking a multi-vitamin. If you are not eating a healthy diet then you should take a supplement to give your body the vitamins and minerals it needs. You may also need a multi-vitamin at different stages in your life; when you are pregnant, experiencing menopause or aging. Lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking and taking drugs also create a need for additional vitamins and minerals.
Studies show that pregnant women can be protected against the occurrence of fetal neural tube defects by taking a multi-vitamin or folate. Multi-vitamins containing folic acid and the B vitamins are especially helpful to those in this category. Studies also show that the iron requirements of pregnant women cannot be met by diet alone and an iron supplement should be taken. More iron is needed for both fetal demand and the large increase in maternal blood volume.
If You Smoke or Consume Alcohol
Dr. Sahelian says that smokers can benefit from increased antioxidants intake in order to protect their lung tissue and vitamin B, since smoking adversely affects the absorption of this vitamin. Consuming alcohol inhibits the intake of vitamin C.
As You Age
The ability to absorb B vitamins declines with age, according to Dr. Sahelian, and older individuals can benefit from taking a multi-vitamin with vitamin B and calcium. These multi-vitamin supplements can boost the immune system by up to 60 percent. Good vitamin and mineral intake can also lessen the incidence of infectious diseases in the aged.
Athletes put enormous physical stress on their systems, using up a lot of vitamins during energy production, says Dr. Sahelian, and are also candidates for taking multi-vitamins.
Vegetarians - Especially Vegans
Vegetarians, and especially vegans, are at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, which can lead to anemia and nerve and muscle problems, because this vitamin is only found in animals. Taking a multi-vitamin or mineral supplement, providing 100 percent of the RDA for vitamin B12, can help prevent this deficiency, according to the American Dietetic Association.
Including a multi-vitamin in your lifestyle can be a good step to improving your overall health. According to Dr. Sahelian, multi-vitamins are the insurance policy of the body; they help provide the nutrients that may be missing in the diet. Most people who take a multi-vitamin feel more energetic and alert, with an improved sense of vitality, says Dr. Sahelian.
How Much Do You Need?
Every person is different and we all need different amounts of the various vitamins and minerals. A good guide is the Recommended Dietary Allowance guidelines, which are usually published on the boxes of multi-vitamins. But remember ingesting the RDA of each vitamin and mineral does not mean you are getting the optimal amount of those substances. The RDA is meant as a guide to the average amount of vitamins and minerals most people need to maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid diseases caused by vitamin deficiencies. Before taking any vitamins, check with your doctor to determine your individual needs.
Taking vitamin supplements with food can help increase absorption and avoid stomach irritations, which can occur if a multi-vitamin is taken on an empty stomach. If you are taking a multi-vitamin with high dosages of certain vitamins and minerals like vitamin B or A, use a time-release capsule or divide the tablet up and take it in smaller doses during the day. Multi-vitamins with a high content of fat-soluble vitamins like A, E and K should be taken with the meal containing the most fat.
Read the label on the multi-vitamin carefully and choose one that offers the necessary vitamins and minerals you need. Also look out for the use of colorants and preservatives and avoid those supplements that contain them in great amounts. It is also important to check the date on a multi-vitamin bottle. The efficacy of vitamins, especially antioxidants, could decrease with time, as air, light exposure and heat can break them down.
When choosing a multi-vitamin be sure to consider and look for the following:
- A statement on the box that says that it has been tested for disintegration and dissolution under USP methods. Sometimes the additional substances added to the vitamins and minerals or the production process make them hard to absorb. The USP tests ensure that the multi-vitamin can be broken down and used by your body.
- A multi-vitamin that contains the entire B vitamin complex (thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, pyridoxine, biotin, folic acid, pantothenic acid and cobalmin), as these work together synergistically.
- Look for natural beta-carotene (Dunaliella salina) rather than the synthetic kind.
- A product with more than 400 micrograms of folic acid and 30 micrograms of B-12. These two substances can assist with cardiovascular health.
- Multi-vitamins that contain large amounts of antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E as well as selenium, zinc and copper. Antioxidants protect your body from free-radical damage.
- Look for chelated minerals as these offer maximum absorption and utilization. Chelated minerals are those that are bound to amino acids.
- If you are a woman of childbearing age, do not chose a multi-vitamin with more than 4000 IU of vitamin A in the form of acetate or palmitate.
- Look for natural vitamin E, which is denoted by the d- prefix, for example d-alpha tocopherol. This type of vitamin E is more easily absorbed by the body than synthetic kinds (denoted by the dl- prefix), which is more easily excreted by the body.
- Avoid products using sulfates as the source for minerals. Iron from ferrous sulfate is inferior to iron from ferrous fumarate or ferric citrate.