To supplement or not to supplement? When it comes to multivitamins, the most respected institutions in the medical field are at odds over the effectiveness of MVMs. We’ll present both sides of the debate in this article, explain MVM (Multivitamin/Mineral) supplements, RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowances), and list those benefits we’re confident you will derive from supplementing.
While some medical experts think MVMs supply missing nutrients, others say they’re nothing more than an expensive crutch. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “For those who eat a healthful diet, a multivitamin may have little or no benefit.”
Based on numerous conflicting studies, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force doesn’t support vitamin and mineral supplements to ward off disease. The USPSTF is an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in disease prevention and evidence-based medicine.
And yet, more than half of adults in the U.S. and 70% of seniors take a vitamin, with about one-third of them taking a comprehensive multivitamin/mineral.
The Vitamin And Nutritional Supplement Industry
The vitamin and nutritional supplement business in the U.S. is a $36 billion industry growing at over 8% per year. Driving these trends are consumers’ increased health consciousness and interest in preventative health and overall wellbeing. The demographics with higher dietary supplement usage are females, older adults, and individuals with more than a high-school education.
The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), the leading trade association representing dietary supplement manufacturers in the U.S., confirms that 77% of U.S. adults take some form of dietary supplement. Their 2019 survey found that vitamins and minerals are the most frequently used category.
What Are Vitamins And Minerals?
Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that our bodies need to carry out a range of normal functions. They are considered micronutrients as your body requires only tiny amounts of them. Yet failing to get even those small quantities, represented as Required Daily Allowances, can potentially cause problems. Since these micronutrients are not produced in our bodies, they must be derived from diet and supplementation.
Vitamins are organic substances – there are two types, water-soluble and fat-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water, are not stored by the body, and are eliminated in urine. Water-soluble vitamins are Vitamin A in its beta-carotene form, the vitamin B-complex group, and vitamin C. The fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E, and K. These vitamins are stored in fat before they are absorbed into the bloodstream and tend to accumulate in the body. Any excess of these vitamins is stored in the liver, and they are not necessarily needed every day.
Minerals are inorganic elements – substances present in soil and water, absorbed by plants or consumed by animals. In addition to the electrolytes, sodium, calcium, potassium, chloride, phosphate, and magnesium, there is a range of other minerals and trace minerals (those minerals needed in very small amounts). Trace mineral RDAs are usually expressed in micrograms versus milligrams.
Although there is no standardized definition for MVMs, a layman’s translation might be a dietary supplement that contains more than one vitamin and at least one mineral. In the natural product industry, a typical MVM is a supplement formulated with a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals designed to deliver approximately 100% of their Recommended Daily Values. The concept of an MVM is that of an insurance policy to meet nutritional gaps of under-consumed vitamin and mineral nutrients.
A key element to remember in the Multis debate is that MVMs are a supplement; they supplement your intake from a varied, healthful diet.
RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowances) for vitamins and minerals differ by gender. When choosing an MVM supplement, we encourage the use of a gender-specific product. To illustrate, most men should avoid using iron supplements or a multivitamin/mineral containing more than their Recommended Daily Allowance for iron, of 8 mg per day. There are many gender-specific options on the market, such as Rainbow Light Men’s One Multivitamin or Persona Nutrition’s Women’s Essentials Multivitamin.
How Do Multivitamins Work?
Multivitamins contain vitamins and minerals that have specific enzyme reactions that benefit the body’s proper function.
The vitamins and minerals also aid your body’s immune system, increase the reproduction and growth of cells, maintenance of bodily functions, and regulate a variety of body processes.
Some of the common multivitamin ingredients include:
- Ascorbic acid
- Vitamin D3
- Vitamin A
There are even enhanced versions and forms of multivitamins that contain specific natural herbs, fatty acids, and oils. Nevertheless, many of these dietary supplements are not properly regulated by the FDA.
While it is not common, potential side effects come from overdosing or taking too much of the multivitamins. Some potential side effects of overdosing from vitamins include headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and sometimes vomiting.
It is also important to take note that many multivitamins specifically contain the prescribed amount of certain vitamins and minerals per adult. Therefore, consuming too much of one could result in imbalances of vitamins and minerals stored in the body which results in mineral or vitamin deficiency.
For example, when you consume too much Zinc it can directly lower your levels of copper and other trace minerals which results in unwanted side effects. That is why it is always necessary to read the label and take no more than one capsule a day as prescribed.
The Debate Regarding The Benefits Of Multivitamin/Minerals
At the heart of the MVM debate is diet versus supplementation and perceived versus actual benefits.
The Mayo Clinic takes a balanced approach, “According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you should meet your nutritional needs primarily through diet. Dietitians recommend most vitamins and minerals be obtained through food sources.” To their credit, Mayo goes on to say, “This isn’t always possible. For example, if you don’t consume enough fruits, vegetables, or other healthy foods, a multivitamin may be helpful.”
Unspoken is the issue that the typical American diet is heavy in nutrient-poor processed foods, refined grains, and added sugars.
Web MD recently posted an article, “Don’t Waste Your Money on Multivitamins,” citing three new studies that found a multivitamin will not prevent heart problems or memory loss or guarantee a longer life span. In the author’s opinion, this is evidence that multivitamins offer little or nothing in health benefits.
Does Anyone Using A Multivitamin Really Believe The Supplement Will Extend Life?
We recommend a more rational level of expectations about why you take your multi – for overall health and wellness and to fill in nutrient gaps. The science demonstrates that multivitamins deliver for those purposes.
To build on our opening “a multivitamin may have little or no benefit” statement attributed to Harvard School of Public Health; they recommend a diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, good protein sources, and healthful fats.
Admirable, however, since the 1950s, the nutrient content in our foods has been on the decline due to over-farming and depleted soils. The nutrient content of animal products has also declined.
Getting people to change their dietary habits is much easier said than done. Today more than one-third of American adults are considered overweight, and another one-third is classified as obese. Americans regularly exceed their caloric requirements without meeting micronutrient recommendations.
Vitamin And Mineral Deficiencies in the U.S.
There are two areas of consensus among the medical community relative to vitamin and mineral supplementation:
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies affect a large percentage of the U.S. population.
- The elderly and pregnant women are at greater risk for these deficiencies.
According to recent U.S. Dietary Guidelines, more than 90% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D and vitamin E from food sources alone. And, more than one-third fail to get enough vitamin A, calcium, and magnesium. Other important nutrients not being taken in sufficient amounts are potassium, fiber, and even vitamin C.
To see what your daily intake (from food and supplementation) should be, we reprinted the chart below of Vitamin and Mineral Recommended Daily Allowances for Adults from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.
- Mcg = microgram, or one-millionth of a gram
- IU = an International Unit
Condition Specific Deficiencies
As you approach age 50, you should monitor several essential vitamins and minerals, such as B6, B12, Folic Acid, C and D, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. For pregnant women, folic acid and iron are required in larger doses than those found in a more generic adult multivitamin. Fortunately, most major MVM brands offer age and gender-specific formulations and pre and postnatal varieties.
The Benefits Of Multivitamins
In addition to age-related deficiencies and pre and postnatal women, other conditions that may result in a deficiency include malabsorption due to certain diseases such as celiac, ulcerative colitis, and cystic fibrosis. Alcoholism can prevent nutrients such as B and C vitamins from being absorbed adequately, as can any condition which entails vomiting or diarrhea. Some medications, especially diuretics, can deplete the stores of minerals, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
A good multivitamin/mineral can help you bridge the deficiency gap should any of the above apply to you or if you are on a poor or restricted diet.
Clinical, observational studies have shown that taking antioxidant vitamins may reduce the risk of significant chronic diseases. Increased vitamin D, in combination with calcium, has been associated with a decreased occurrence of fractures. Zinc and vitamin E may slow the progression of macular degeneration.
In addition to being insurance against potential deficiencies, multivitamin/minerals may also:
- Help Prevent Chronic Diseases
- Enhance Energy
- Combat Free Radicals
- Improve Brain Function
- Provide Eye Health
Further, MVM users’ studies show they are more likely to have healthier diets and rate their general health as excellent or very good. Eating cleaner and feeling better about your health are pretty significant benefits of supplementing in and of themselves.
In addition to age and pregnancy, many multivitamins and minerals include condition-specific ingredients to address weight management, energy, stress reduction, cognition, and immunity support.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the main benefits of multivitamins below.
1. May Improve Brain Function
Good news for adults! Studies are proving that consuming multivitamins can significantly improve the memory of older adults. Studies have not only shown that multivitamins may provide you with better brain cognition but also improve your overall mood.
This is because there are a lot of people who unknowingly have nutrient deficiencies from the lack of proper eating choices. Multivitamins may provide them the adequate vitamins and minerals needed for their brain to function properly.
Although there are still no studies that prove this, many multivitamins claim to also help cure or ease depression and anxiety disorders.
2. Improve Eye Health And Function
Many studies are proving the efficacy of multivitamins consumption in preventing eye damage and age-related macular degeneration. This is mostly because many multivitamins brands contain Vitamin A, Lutein, and zeaxanthin which all benefit the eyes.
These compounds have a specific effect on the eyes by protecting the macula in particular. There was also a study that found that taking multivitamins slows the progression of eye diseases although researchers have pointed out that these compounds do not prevent the disease from forming.
This is because most eye diseases are either acquired due to environmental factors such as being exposed to harmful UVA and UVB rays as well as the blue light emitted from our gadgets.
Some eye diseases are even hereditary, that is why if you feel any of the early signs of eye disease such as pressure or pain inside the eye, a blurry or double-way vision you should immediately consult an ophthalmologist for early detection and screening.
3. May Accelerate Body Growth If You’re In Puberty
Taking multivitamins during puberty may help you accelerate your body’s growth, according to many supplement companies. This is because during puberty the amount of growth hormones known for developing muscles in your body is skyrocketing.
While this is true, without actually fulfilling your daily dose of vitamins and minerals due to lack of proper diet you may stunt your actual growth. Multivitamins also contain essential vitamins known for growth such as:
- Vitamin D3
These synergistic compounds can work effectively to increase your body’s growth and form.
Are Multivitamins Safe?
MVM supplements are generally considered safe for healthy individuals. Although excessive intake of certain micronutrients can be unsafe, the amount of these nutrients in MVMs is safe. They are formulated to approximate or equal the recommended daily values for adults. For most micronutrients, their daily values are considerably lower than the tolerable upper intake levels (UL).
As always, we recommend consulting with your medical professional before adding any vitamin or mineral supplement to your regimen. This is a particularly prudent step for Individuals with medical conditions or those on prescription medicines, as these products can interact with medications.
Recommended Multivitamin Brands
This vitamin is a good choice for adults, containing almost all of your body’s vitamin and mineral needs. This is also one of the most trusted brands in the U.S.
Bausch & Lomb PreserVision
This is a brand that ensures premium quality control, providing you the very best ingredients of vitamins and minerals needed by your body!
Nature Made Multi Daily
Vegan and cruelty-free, great for vegetarians especially loaded with B-Vitamins that aren’t necessarily present in most vegan and vegetarian diets, good quality, and one of the most trusted brands in the U.S.
Alternatives To Multivitamin Supplements
Throughout this article, we have expressed that most medical and nutrition experts agree, the best way to get the vitamins and minerals is through a balanced diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains such as:
- Bell Peppers
- Lean Beef
- Brown Rice
- Brussels Sprouts
- Fish and Shellfish
- Sweet Potatoes
- Low-Fat Yogurt
Should You Take A Multivitamin?
If you are like so many people who have trouble meeting their micronutrient intake recommendations, we think a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement is warranted. If your diet has too little of any essential nutrient, consider multivitamins an excellent, economical method to protect yourself against deficiencies.