Essential Supplements – Part 1: Multi-Vitamins

Before we get started…

“Multivitamin supplements” is part one of the “Essential Supplements Series” which supports the use of a general health supplement regimen. Essential supplements include a multi-vitamin supplement, fish oil or other anti-inflammatory supplement, probiotics, and seasonal or as needed supplements. These are all supplements that everyone and anyone can benefit from no matter their current health status, goals, diet, and budget.

HOWEVER – Multivitamin supplements are a huge category and encompasses many products with a variety of claims. There are many conflicting studies on multivitamins and I urge you to do your own research. Variables in these studies change immensely. The health of the people in the studies before taking the vitamins may not be comparable to your starting point. The quality of the vitamins is up to the discretion of the researchers and might be better or worse than what is on the market now. Finally, exactly what was measured to determine if the vitamins “worked” all vary from study to study.  Before starting your research ask yourself;

  • What do I need my multivitamin to do?
  • What quality and type of multivitamin do I need?
  • Can other supplements, foods, or lifestyle changes fulfill the benefit I am looking for?
  • Should I hire a professional to double-check my regime? 

Essential Supplements - Part 1: Multi-Vitamins

The first steps in a healthy diet are getting your macronutrients in check, and focusing on high quality, real foods. Due to diminishing farming practices, this strategy is not always enough. Nutritional holes in your diet will develop if you aren’t careful. The good news is that these holes can be filled with the use of a few select supplements.

Choose quality, whole food multivitamins

Almost everyone should be taking a multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement of some kind. There are many options so you’ll want to make sure the supplement you chose is ideal for you as an individual. A simple drugstore brand multivitamin supplement will not be sufficient. You get what you pay for! Many drugstore brands are sourced with cheap or synthetic ingredients, doses too low to be effective, and not formulated for the best absorption.
Unfortunately, many studies on vitamins use lower quality supplements and produce irregular or disappointing results.  Look for brands and formulas that contain naturally derived (not synthetic) vitamins, some times called whole-food supplements. Occasionally you will find some bottles that contain herbs, enzymes, or other blends besides the standard vitamins and minerals. Do your research and decide if you need these extras because you will likely be paying higher prices for these extra ingredients.

Choose a multivitamin specific to your needs

Some brands make multivitamins specific to age, gender, activity levels, lifestyle, and health goals. These formulations are going to have more precise amounts of vitamins and minerals that are more specific to the type of person it is marketed toward.
At a minimum I would look for a multivitamin that is gender-specific, and or age-specific. The most common categories are kids, teens, adult, adult women, adult men, senior, senior women, and senior men. Multivitamins formulated for certain conditions also imply age and gender specificity. For example, a prenatal vitamin implies it’s for adult females while a multivitamin formulated for prostate health is for older males.
Individuals with certain health conditions can benefit from a multivitamin complex formulated specifically for their concerns.
A diabetic might look for cinnamon or other blood sugar control nutrients. An immune-compromised person might look for immune-boosting herbs and extra vitamin C or zinc. Someone with a stressful job might look for a daily multivitamin with extra B vitamins and nutrients for focus and memory. An overall healthy woman might look for her multivitamin to have secondary benefits, such as popular hair, skin, and nails formulas. An athlete would benefit from extra magnesium and minerals to assist in recovery and replace electrolytes.

Other considerations

The best multivitamins are often split into two or three pills, so read your labels carefully. While you can take 2-3 pills all at once, the benefits of splitting up the daily doses of vitamins make it a much smarter choice. Taking smaller doses allows your body to absorb only what it needs. It also reduces the amount that you need excrete. We’ve all heard the term “expensive urine”. Splitting up your doses allows your body to be steadily nourished without giving it anything it can’t handle or doesn’t need.
If you track your food intake on a website or app that provides nutrition reports, you can determine if you are getting enough of a given vitamin or mineral. If your diet is generally the same from day to day, you might find that you are only lacking one or two vitamins. Then you may not need a multivitamin supplement. Consider supplementing with just the specific vitamins that you aren’t getting enough of. Maybe you’ve noticed that most days you are just a little bit under on everything and just need a boost. If you bought a multivitamin that requires taking 2 or 3 pills, just take one pill to get a ‘top-off’ dose. As always, it is best to get the bulk of your nutritional needs met with real food.

Recommended brands

This list is by no means exhaustive and there are plenty of great companies out there! Brands I like include Jarrow Formulas, New Chapter, Optimum Nutrition, Carlsons, and Dr. Weil. These are high-quality supplements, most use organic ingredients, and worth the price.
Update for 2020: The surge in popularity of gummy multivitamins and supplements has caused many people to ask; Are these overhyped pieces of candy with just enough vitamins added to call it nutritious? As long as you follow the guidelines in the rest of this article, then go ahead and get the gummies! Reputable gummy brands include Olly, Vitafusion and Hum. They make it easier to take if you have a hard time swallowing pills or have to take many pills at once.
To maximize your budget to allow you to get the highest quality you can afford, buy the biggest bottle you can. It will be a higher cost upfront but it will be less money per pill. 

Final notes

This article is meant to help you decide if you need a multivitamin and to provide an overview of what to look for in a quality multivitamin. There are many reasons when taking a multivitamin makes sense, but there are also circumstances when it does not make sense. All specific health concerns should be taken up with your doctor or a qualified professional who knows you as an individual. Feel free to reach out to me privately if you have questions!

Remember, as with everything in your diet, try not to overthink anything and always keep things simple. If you forget your vitamin one day, don’t worry about! Moderation, consistency, and averages are more important to overall health, fitness, and well being than exact daily totals.

More Resources

I’ve chosen the links below because they present both the pros and cons of taking a multi and give perspective to both sides of the argument. Do your research and decide for yourself 🙂

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