by Rachael Link, MS, RD
As the world’s most popular dietary supplement, you can easily find an extensive range of multivitamin supplements to fit any age, gender and lifestyle on the shelves of grocery stores, pharmacies and health shops alike. Multivitamins have become a household staple in many parts of the world, and surveys have even found that more than one-third of all Americans take multivitamins daily in the hopes of improving their health, warding off disease, and enriching their diets with any vitamins and minerals that they might be missing. (1)
So do multivitamins work, and should you consider adding them into your daily routine? Let’s dive right in and take a look at what you need to know, along with the best vitamins for men and best vitamins for women to take.
What Are Multivitamins?
Multivitamins are a type of supplement that contain a combination of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients used to support better health. In the United States, the official multivitamin definition is any supplement with at least three vitamins and minerals that has minimal risk of adverse side effects and is without the addition of herbs, hormones or drugs.
Most people use multivitamins to help fill in nutritional gaps and prevent deficiencies in key vitamins and minerals. They have also been associated with a number of health benefits and may aid in promoting better eye health, improving memory and maintaining bone strength throughout the life span.
Multivitamins are available in pill, capsule, powder, liquid or even injectable form, and different formulations are available to fit the nutritional needs of just about anyone, regardless of age, gender or health status.
Types of Multivitamins
Your nutritional needs can vary based on many different factors. For this reason, the best multivitamin for men over 50 may be totally different than the best multivitamin for women.
Fortunately, there are many types of multivitamins available to fit any age and lifestyle. In fact, you can easily find a multivitamin for bodybuilding and gaining muscle, multivitamins designed specifically for people with kidney disease, and even vitamin supplements made to enhance the health of your hair, skin and nails.
They can be found in pill, powder, capsule or liquid form, making it easy to find something that works for just about everyone. Plus, different supplements contain different mixes of vitamins and minerals, so you can use your multivitamin to tailor to your specific health goals and round out your diet.
Multivitamin vs. B Complex Vitamin
Multivitamins typically contain most of the vitamins and minerals that your body needs, including vitamins A, C, D, E and K, as well as B vitamins like thiamine, niacin and vitamin B12. For this reason, they are most often used to help fill in the gaps in a balanced diet and may be especially useful for those who have restrictive diets, limited intake or just need some help squeezing in enough micronutrients each day.
B complex vitamins, on the other hand, contain only B vitamins, including a mix of thiamine, riboflavin, biotin, pantothenic acid, folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin B6. These supplements may be more useful for those who have well-rounded diets and meet most of their nutritional needs through food alone but are looking to support healthy energy levels, improve cognitive performance and promote mental health. (2)
It’s usually not recommended to take both a B complex and multivitamin, as excess amounts of B vitamins are simply excreted through the urine. Instead, pick one or the other based on your personal nutritional needs and health goals.
- Corrects Nutritional Deficiencies
- Supports Healthy Pregnancy
- Promotes Proper Growth and Development
- Helps Maintain Bone Strength
- Improves Brain Function
- Enhances Eye Health
- May Benefit Heart Health
1. Corrects Nutritional Deficiencies
Micronutrient deficiencies can be at the root of serious issues like pellagra, anemia, bone loss, fatigue and constipation. Luckily, multivitamins can be used to help fill in any nutritional gaps in your diet and prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies to optimize your health.
If you’re on any type of restrictive diet, in particular, you may be missing out on important nutrients that your body needs. People following a vegan or vegetarian diet, for example, are often lacking key micronutrients like iron, vitamin B12, zinc and calcium in their diets. Taking a multivitamin is the best way to ensure that you’re getting these essential vitamins and minerals in your daily diet.
2. Supports Healthy Pregnancy
Getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet is absolutely essential to ensuring a healthy pregnancy, and each nutrient plays a specific role in fetal growth and development. Folate supports neural tube development, calcium supports bone growth, iodine prevents thyroid problems and iron keeps your blood healthy.
Doctors generally recommend that women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should take prenatal vitamins, which can help round out a well-balanced diet by supplying these key vitamins and minerals to ensure a healthy pregnancy. In fact, some studies show that multivitamin use is associated with a lower risk of certain birth defects, which can have long-lasting and even permanent effects on health. (3, 4, 5)
3. Promotes Proper Growth and Development
Multivitamins can help provide many of the micronutrients that are necessary for promoting proper growth and development in children. This is especially important for children who may not be meeting their nutritional needs through diet alone.
For instance, one review published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood found that nearly 50 percent of children surveyed had vitamin A intakes below the recommended amount. (6) Deficiencies in vitamins D and K have also been recorded in children, both of which can have serious consequences on long-term health and are easily preventable through the use of a multivitamin.
4. Helps Maintain Bone Strength
As you get older, it’s normal to gradually lose bone mineral density, increasing the risk of bone fractures and serious conditions like osteoporosis. Certain people are at an even higher risk of developing osteoporosis, including women, older adults and those with nutritional deficiencies. (7)
Multivitamins can supply some of the important vitamins and minerals that your body needs to build and maintain strong, healthy bones, even as you get older. Studies show that calcium and vitamin D, in particular, can be combined to help reduce the risk of bone fractures. (8) However, the best multivitamin for women over 50 should include a mix of calcium, vitamin D, magnesium and phosphorus, all of which can promote bone health and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
5. Improves Brain Function
The benefits of multivitamins extend far beyond physical health. In fact, some research shows that taking a daily multivitamin can also preserve brain function and boost mental health as well. Interestingly enough, one study published by the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology at Swinburne University in Australia even found that daily supplementation with a multivitamin was able to improve memory in older men at risk for cognitive decline. (9)
What’s more, multivitamins may also improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression. One study published in Psychopharmacology showed that multivitamin supplementation was linked to significant reductions in both anxiety and stress. (10) Similarly, another study found that taking a multivitamin was effective at increasing alertness, improving mood and enhancing feelings of overall well-being. (11)
6. Enhances Eye Health
Recent research suggests that taking a multivitamin can help improve eye health and aid in the treatment of conditions like macular degeneration, which is an eye disease the causes vision loss and is considered the leading cause of blindness around the world. (12) Fortunately, studies show that multivitamins can help slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration. (13, 14) Not only that, but other studies have found that multivitamins may even reduce the risk of cataract symptoms, another common condition that contributes to vision loss in older adults. (15)
7. May Benefit Heart Health
It’s no secret that what you put on your plate has a major impact on the health of your heart. Certain nutrients can reduce cholesterol level, lower blood pressure and relieve inflammation to keep your heart functioning and in top condition, which may be why some studies have found that multivitamin use may be associated with a lower risk of heart attacks and death from heart disease. (16, 17, 18)
However, evidence has been mixed on the effects of multivitamins on heart health, with several studies showing that supplementation may not have much of an impact on the prevention of heart disease. (19) Therefore, more studies are needed to understand how multivitamins may impact heart health in the general population.
Best Multivitamins for Men
Men have different nutritional needs than women, so finding the best multivitamin for men can definitely be a challenge. The best men’s multivitamin should include enough of several important micronutrients that are directly involved in overall health and wellness to meet your daily needs and prevent deficiency.
Here are a few of the best vitamins for men, plus a few minerals that should definitely be included in your multivitamin:
- Vitamin A: helps maintain eye health, increases skin cell turnover and regulates immune function (20)
- Vitamin B12: aids in red blood cell formation, DNA synthesis and brain function (21)
- Vitamin C: acts as an antioxidant to fight free radicals, produces collagen and protects against infection and disease (22)
- Vitamin E: improves heart health, prevents oxidative damage to cells and relieves inflammation (23)
- Vitamin D3: increases calcium absorption, builds strong bones and boosts immunity (24)
- Magnesium: acts as a cofactor for over 300 enzymatic reactions and plays a role in energy metabolism, muscle contractions and brain health (25)
- Selenium: protects cells, reduces the risk of thyroid problems and increases male fertility (26)
Best Multivitamins for Women
Because women need different amounts of vitamins and minerals at different points throughout their life spans, the best women’s multivitamin should include a wide array of vitamins and minerals tailored to fit their recommended daily requirements.
Here are some of the best vitamins for women as well as a few important minerals that you may want to look for in your daily supplement:
- Vitamin A: keeps your skin glowing, wards off illness and infection and maintains healthy vision
- Vitamin B12: boosts energy levels, promotes DNA production and optimizes brain health
- Vitamin C: aids in collagen synthesis to support healthy hair and skin, prevents cell damage and enhances immunity
- Vitamin D3: supports bone health, increases calcium absorption and boosts immunity
- Calcium: promotes bone formation and strength to prevent osteoporosis and bone loss during menopause (27)
- Folate: involved in DNA replication and necessary to prevent birth defects during pregnancy (28)
- Iron: produces healthy red blood cells to help deliver oxygen to the body (29)
Worst Multivitamins for Health
Not all multivitamins are created equally, and some may actually do more harm than good when it comes to your health. Many are often contaminated and can contain harmful fillers, additives and questionable ingredients like food dyes, hydrogenated fats and genetically modified cornstarch. Not only can these ingredients potentially negate many of the health benefits of your daily multivitamin, but they may also come with long-term consequences to your health.
Your best is to check the ingredients label carefully and steer clear of multivitamins pumped full of fillers, artificial food coloring and chemicals. Be sure to also buy from a reputable retailer and opt for organic blends to make sure you’re getting the real deal.
Who Needs to Take a Multivitamin? Multivitamin Dosage
At this point, you may find yourself wondering: Should I take a multivitamin?
If you’re not following a well-balanced, healthy diet the majority of the time, adding a multivitamin into your routine may be a good idea. Additionally, if you are on a restrictive diet or have increased nutritional needs, you may also want to consider taking a multivitamin.
Vegans and vegetarians, those following a low-calorie diet, people with decreased food intake, and those who have recently undergone weight loss or bariatric surgery may need to take a multivitamin. Additionally, older adults, people with impaired nutrient absorption, athletes, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may also benefit from taking a multivitamin.
Dosage can vary widely based on the content of your multivitamin. It’s important to follow the instructions carefully to ensure you’re meeting your nutritional needs without overdoing it and increasing the risk of negative side effects. If you have any questions or concerns or any underlying medical conditions that may alter your micronutrient needs, be sure to discuss with your doctor to find the right multivitamin for you.
What to Look for in a Multivitamin + Multivitamin Side Effects
There are many different forms of multivitamins available, making it easy to find one that works for you. Capsules and pills are the most common types, but you can also opt to take a liquid multivitamin if you have difficulty swallowing or prefer adding it to juices or smoothies instead.
Picking the best multivitamin for you is one surefire way to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. If you have special nutritional needs, you may want to consider a multivitamin tailored to you. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, for example, may want to opt for a prenatal vitamin whereas older adults can select a multivitamin that contains the specific nutrients that they need.
Additionally, be sure to check the multivitamin ingredients label carefully to be sure your supplement isn’t loaded with artificial fillers and additives, which are often used to extend shelf life and cut costs but can end up depleting the nutritional value of your multivitamin.
Look for multivitamins brands that produce supplements using real, whole-food sources rather than synthetic ingredients to boost absorption and bioavailability. Ideally, multivitamins should also be fermented, which means that they have undergone a natural process that allows them be digested and absorbed more efficiently.
Steer clear of formulas that contain both iron and calcium. Iron binds to calcium and impairs its absorption, so taking a multivitamin with iron and calcium at the same time is never a good idea. Instead, pick a multivitamin that contains just one and — if needed — take a separate mineral supplement with the other at a different meal.
When used as directed, potential multivitamin side effects are minimal and often resolve over time. Some of the symptoms most commonly reported include constipation, diarrhea, nausea or upset stomach. If symptoms persist, consider switching brands or discussing any concerns with your doctor.
History of the Multivitamin
In the United States, multivitamins have been available since the early 1940s and have steadily grown in popularity since. In fact, it’s estimated that more than one-third of all Americans take multivitamins, and multivitamins account for about one-sixth of all dietary supplement purchases, racking up a total of $5.7 billion in 2014.
According to a survey published in the Journal of Nutrition, women are more likely to use multivitamins than men and rates begin to increase after age 18. Interestingly enough, a whopping 48 percent of women and 43 percent of men over age 71 report regular use of a multivitamin supplement. (30)
Most health experts recommend prioritizing a nutritious, well-rounded diet to help meet nutritional needs over supplementation. However, multivitamins are often prescribed to those with limited intake, people with restrictive diets and those with certain conditions that may impair nutrient absorption. Multivitamins can also benefit older adults, pregnant women and those at risk for health issues like macular degeneration.
Multivitamins can be a useful tool to ensure you’re meeting your nutritional needs. However, they shouldn’t be used as a replacement for a healthy, well-balanced diet rich in nutrient-dense foods. Not only do these foods contain an array of important vitamins and minerals, but they also contain other important nutrients, including fiber, protein and healthy fats.
Multivitamins are generally safe and can be used with minimal risk of side effects. Adverse symptoms often resolve on their own and are generally mild, including stomach discomfort, diarrhea and constipation.
Be careful when combining a multivitamin with other nutritional supplements, as this can cause you to consume certain nutrients above the established upper limit, increasing your risk of adverse side effects. (31) If you’re taking blood-thinning medications like warfarin, you may need to talk with your doctor before starting a multivitamin to ensure your intake of vitamin K remains consistent. Smokers should also pay close attention to what their multivitamin contains and avoid supplements with high amounts of vitamin A or beta-carotene, as these supplements have been linked to a higher risk of lung cancer in some studies. (32, 33)
Additionally, if you have any underlying health conditions or are pregnant, it’s best to consult with a doctor or dietitian to find a multivitamin tailored to your nutritional needs. This is because certain conditions like kidney disease can lead to alterations in your nutrient requirements, so taking an over-the-counter supplement may provide too much or too little for your specific nutritional needs.
- Multivitamins are supplements that contain a mix of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to help support better health.
- They can help correct nutritional deficiencies, support a healthy pregnancy, promote proper growth and development, and improve brain, eye, heart and bone health.
- Because nutritional needs can vary based on a number of different factors, the best multivitamin for men and the best multivitamin for women may be slightly different.
- Specific multivitamins are also available for older adults, children, people with certain health conditions and those with unique nutrient needs.
- For best results, be sure to find a multivitamin free of fillers and additives and produced from real, whole-food sources.
- Additionally, make sure to pair your multivitamin with a healthy, well-rounded diet to help promote better health long term.
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