See How Multivitamins Benefit Your Overall Health


If a multivitamin is part of your daily routine —like 33 percent of Americans—you probably consider it an insurance policy against nutritional shortfalls. (1) And that’s a smart move! After all, the modern American diet which is high in processed foods, as well as chronic stress and certain medications, can leave you low in key vitamins and minerals. While popping a once-a-day multi isn’t a bulletproof way to stay well, including a multivitamin in your daily routine can help ensure you’re getting at least the minimum amounts of the key nutrients you need.

multivitamins on a wooden spoon with fruits in the background

A high-quality multivitamin can add an extra layer of protection when combined with a healthy lifestyle.

What’s in a multivitamin?

At its core, a good multivitamin should contain the vitamins and minerals needed to maintain health. These include:

  • Vitamin A
  • The B vitamins (B6, B12, biotin, folic acid, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, and thiamin)
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K
  • Borate
  • Calcium
  • Chromium
  • Copper
  • Iodine
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Molybdenum
  • Selenium
  • Zinc

Most multivitamins typically contain these nutrients in amounts close to the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). (2) Those nutrients can either be derived from real food or are created in a lab. But multivitamins aren’t necessarily limited to vitamins and minerals. Some supplements also contain herbs, spices, fruits, or vegetables. These plant-based nutrients (also known as phytonutrients) may provide additional health benefits.

What are the benefits of multivitamins?

Along with helping you meet your daily nutrient requirements, research suggests that taking a multivitamin may help you stay younger longer. One study by the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences found that women who took a daily multivitamin had telomeres that were more than five percent longer than those who didn’t supplement. (3) Telomeres are little protective caps at the end of chromosomes, much like those plastic tips on the ends of your shoelaces. The longer the telomeres, the slower your cells age.

New research published in the journal Nutrients also found that taking a plant-based multi that contains an array of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients reduced a specific type of free radical called reactive oxygen species (ROS) and prevented DNA damage in a group of healthy people who rarely ate fruits or vegetables. (4) Filling in these small but important nutritional gaps with a comprehensive multi may help reduce your risk of certain conditions like cataract, cognitive decline, or even heart disease—especially when combined with a healthy diet. (5)

Cognition and mood

Several studies have found that taking a multi improves memory and mood, especially in older adults. One 16-week study of elderly women who complained of memory problems found that those taking a multivitamin experienced better memory retrieval by the end of the study compared to the women taking a placebo. (6) Another study of older men found that taking a daily multi improved long-term (episodic) memory. (7) Other research suggests that multivitamins might also have a positive impact on mood and stress levels. (8)(9)

Heart disease

Studies have also investigated the role multivitamins might play in reducing heart disease. While short-term studies typically haven’t found any benefit, large studies looking at long-term use discovered that consistently taking a daily multivitamin for at least 3 years and up to 20 years significantly reduced the odds of having a heart attack or dying from cardiovascular disease—and it didn’t matter whether you were a man or a woman. (10)(11)

One recent study of 120 healthy adults drilled down even further. While most short-term studies haven’t made a connection between supplementing with a multi and a lower risk of heart disease, this study— which lasted just 56 days—found that taking a multivitamin, multimineral, phytonutrient supplement increased blood levels of key nutrients like quercetin, vitamin C, and folate, and helped maintain healthy levels of B6 and B12. The researchers also found that those participants who took the multi had lower levels of homocysteine and gamma-glutamyl transferase—two important markers that can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. (12)(13)(14)

Vision

The antioxidants in multivitamins might also help protect your eyesight as you age. In one study review, British researchers concluded that multivitamin use might help slow down the progression of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD)—the leading cause of blindness in older people. (15) While supplementation doesn’t seem to prevent ARMD, a randomized, double-blind study of doctors taking part in the Physicians’ Health Study II did find that taking a multi reduced the risk of cataract by 9 to 14 percent. (16)

Multivitamins for men, women, and their health needs

Walk into any health food store and you’ll find shelves loaded with specialty multivitamins, often targeted at men and women. There’s a good reason for this: while both men and women need many of the same nutrients, the RDA for each gender varies. (17) Gender-specific supplements can help meet their unique needs.

close up of woman holding a supplement bottle

A woman’s multivitamin needs change over time.

Best multivitamins for women

Women’s multivitamin needs are often based on a woman’s stage of life. For instance, women in their reproductive years need additional iron due to blood loss during menstruation. Pregnancy also increases the need for iron, as well as for folic acid, to reduce the risk of miscarriage or the risk of having a low-birthweight baby. (18) Plus, higher levels of folic acid have been shown to prevent neural tube defects in infants. (19) Older women, on the other hand, don’t need extra iron, but they do need additional calcium and vitamin D to protect against the bone loss that occurs after menopause. (20)

Best multivitamins for men

Formulas for men over 50 don’t usually include iron since this important mineral is easily obtained from the foods we eat. Iron levels can also build up to potentially harmful levels over time, especially in older men. (21) But, while multivitamins for men don’t contain iron, manufacturers often add lycopene, an antioxidant in tomatoes that has been shown to support prostate health. (22)

close up of supplement bottle label with nutrient facts

Check labels to make sure your multivitamin contains the essential nutrients needed for good health.

How to choose a multivitamin

Shopping for a multivitamin can be confusing, simply because there are so many to choose from! Here’s what to look for in a quality multivitamin:

  • USP verified to ensure it contains the ingredients listed on the label in the declared amounts
  • Manufactured using the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practices
  • Contains 100 percent of the RDA of most of the basic vitamins and minerals
  • Allergen-free
  • Does not contain fillers, artificial colors, or additives

The bottom line

Multivitamins aren’t a magic bullet that reduce the risk of every disease, but research suggests that long-term use as part of a healthy lifestyle can help provide an extra layer of protection. To maximize your multi, look for a high-quality supplement that meets your specific nutrient needs.

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  1. Bailey RL, Gahche JJ, Lentino CV, et al. Dietary supplement use in the United States: 2003-2006. J Nutr. 2011;141:261-266.
  2. NIH State-of-the-Science Panel. National Institutes of Health state-of-the-science conference statement: multivitamin/mineral supplements and chronic disease prevention. Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85:257S-264S.
  3. Xu Q, Parks CG, DeRoo LA, et al. Multivitamin use and telomere length in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89:1857-63.
  4. Kang S, Lim Y, Ki mYJ, et al. Multivitamin and mineral supplementation containing phytonutrients scavenges reactive oxygen species in health subjects: A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. Nutrients. 2019;11(1):pii:E101.
  5. Ward E. Addressing nutritional gaps with multivitamin and mineral supplements. Nutrition.2014;13:72.
  6. Macpherson H, Silberstein R, Pipingas A. Neurocognitive effect of multivitamin supplementation on the steady state visually evoked potential (SSVEP) measure of brain activity in elderly women. PHysiol Behav. 2012;107(3):346-54.
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  8. Carroll D, Ring C, Suter M, et al. The effects of an oral multivitamin combination with calcium, magnesium, and zinc on psychological well-being in healthy young male volunteers: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, trial. Psychopharmacology (Berl).2000;150(2):220-5.
  9. Harris E, Kirk J, Rowsell R, et al. The effect of multivitamin supplementation on mood and stress in healthy older men. Hum Psychopharmcol. 2011;26(8):560-7.
  10. Bailey RL, Fakhouri TH, Park Y, et al. Multivitamin-mineral use is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease mortality among women in the United States. J Nutr. 2015;145(3):572-8.
  11. Rautiainen S, Rist PM, Glynn RJ, et al. Multivitamin use and the risk of cardiovascular disease in men. J Nutr. 2016;146(6):1235-40.
  12. Isakov VA, Bogdanova AA, Bessonov VV, et al. Effects of multivitamin, multimineral, and phytonutrient supplementation on nutrients status and biomarkers on heart health risk in a Russian population: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Nutrients. 2018;10(2):pii:E120.
  13. Djuric D, Jakovljevic V, Zivkovic V, et al. Homocysteine and homocysteine-related compounds: An overview of the roles in the pathology of the cardiovascular and nervous systems. Can JH Physiol Pharmacol. 2018;96(10):991-1003.
  14. Jiang S, Jiang D, Tao Y. Role of gamma-glutamyltransferase in cardiovascular diseases. Exp Clin Cardiol. 2013;18(1):53-6.
  15. Evans JR, Lawrenson JG. Antioxidant vitamin and mineral supplements for slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.2017;7:CD000254.
  16. Christen WG, Glynn RJ, Manson JE, et al. A multivitamin supplement and cataract and age-related macular degeneration in a randomized trial of male physicians. Ophthalmology.2014;121(2):525-34.
  17. Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Vitamins. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies. 2011.
  18. Biesalski HK, Tinz J. Multivitamin/mineral supplements: Rationale and safety. Nutrition. 2017;36:60-66.
  19. Wilson RD, Audibert F, Brock JA, et al. Pre-conception folic acid and multivitamin supplementation for the primary and secondary prevention of neural tube defects and other folic acid-sensitive congenital anomalies. J Obstet Gynaecol Can. 2015;37(6):534-52.
  20. Chung M, Balk EM, Brendel M, et al. Vitamin D and calcium: A systematic review of health outcomes. Evid Rep Technol Assess (Full Rep). 2009;(183):1-420.
  21. Should Older Adults Take Iron Supplements? Revisiting a Controversy. Institute on Aging. Available at https://blog.ioaging.org/medical-concerns/should-older-adults-take-iron-supplements-revisiting-a-controversy/
  22. Cataño JG, Trujillo CG, Caicedo JI, et al. Efficacy of lycopene intake in primary prevention of prostate cancer: A systematic review of the literature and meta-analysis. Arch Esp Urol. 2018;71(2):187-97.