Last updated: August 13, 2020
Modern Western diets, rich in processed and sugar-laden foods, are a common cause of nutrient deficiencies and poor general health. (6) As a result, many individuals rely on a daily multivitamin supplement to help fill nutritional gaps and promote better health. (15) A varied diet rich in healthy foods is the best strategy for meeting your nutritional needs, however, a multivitamin may help if you have trouble reaching the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for essential vitamins and minerals each day.
Continue reading to learn more about multivitamins and some of the health conditions they may help improve or prevent.
What are multivitamins?
Multivitamins are dietary supplements containing multiple vitamins and minerals essential for optimal health and well-being.
The popularity of multivitamins has increased since first introduced in the 1940s. Today, approximately one-third of all North Americans regularly supplement with multivitamins. (15) Some of the most commonly reported uses for multivitamins include maintaining or improving general health, reducing the risk of certain chronic conditions (e.g., heart disease, age-related eye conditions), addressing vitamin deficiency and dietary inadequacies, and preventing birth abnormalities during pregnancy. (21)
- B vitamins
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- Zinc (21)
Many multivitamins contain these essential nutrients in amounts similar to the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs), which includes Daily Values (DVs), RDAs, and Adequate Intakes (AIs). Furthermore, some multivitamins include additional components, such as amino acids, probiotics, herbs, and phytonutrients for their added health benefits. (15) Multivitamins are widely available in numerous forms, including capsules, tablets, liquids, gummies, and chewable, and many are specifically formulated for different populations (e.g., prenatal, children, seniors). (15)
You’ve likely heard that multivitamins can help prevent nutrient deficiencies and ensure that you’re getting adequate amounts of essential vitamins and minerals. Research indicates that daily supplementation of multivitamins may also support your health in numerous ways, including reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease and promoting healthy cognitive function. (2)(13)(18)
May improve cardiovascular health
While results vary, some studies have proposed a possible connection between multivitamin supplementation and a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Two studies with large population sizes showed that although short-term multivitamin use has no significant effect on heart health, consistent long-term use (>3 to ≥20 years) significantly decreases the risk of heart attack or cardiovascular disease-related death in both men and women. (2)(18)
Boost cognitive function and mood
Taking a daily multivitamin may improve memory, particularly among older adults at risk of cognitive decline. A study of older women complaining of memory issues found that daily multivitamin supplementation for 16 weeks significantly improved short-term memory compared to the group receiving a placebo. (2) A double-blind study of 51 sedentary men between the ages of 50 and 74 also found that short-term (eight weeks) multivitamin supplementation significantly improved episodic memory, which is the ability to recall previous experiences, compared to the group receiving a placebo. (10)
Additional research suggests that multivitamins may improve mood. A study of 138 healthy adults between the ages of 20 and 50 showed a significant reduction in perceived stress levels, physical fatigue, and anxiety following 16 weeks of multivitamin use. (17) Multivitamins containing larger doses of B vitamins have proven to be the most effective in improving mood. It’s believed that because dietary inadequacies and nutrient deficiencies may negatively affect mood, supplementing with a multivitamin may be responsible for these benefits. (12)(17)
Protect eyes from age-related damage
Multivitamins may help slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in adults over the age of 50. (1)(8) This benefit is believed to be attributed in part to the antioxidants found in multivitamins, including vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc, which protect the eye macula from degeneration and the retinas from cellular damage. (8)
A randomized, double-blind study of 14,641 male physicians over 50 years old discovered that long-term (> 11 years) multivitamin use reduced the risk of developing eye cataracts (cloudy eye lenses). (4)
Correct nutrient deficiencies in certain gastrointestinal conditions
Multivitamin supplements have demonstrated effectiveness in improving nutrient deficiencies in individuals with gastrointestinal conditions that cause malabsorption, such as celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Supplementing with specific vitamins and minerals found in multivitamins, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, folic acid, iron, and zinc, may reverse nutrient deficiencies and improve disease symptoms in some cases. (19)(20)
How to choose a multivitamin
When selecting a multivitamin, consider the following factors.
Assess the supplement facts label
When choosing a multivitamin, compare the supplement facts labels of different brands and products. Look for a comprehensive multivitamin that contains approximately 100 percent of the RDA for most vitamins and minerals to help ensure you’re meeting your nutrition requirements. Note that the number of capsules or tablets that make up a dosage can vary by the product, so pay attention to how many capsules are required to achieve the dosages on the product label.
Consider allergen claims
The Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires product labels to indicate the presence of the eight most common food allergens, including milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans. Since these allergens are commonly found in dietary supplements, consumers with food allergies or intolerances should look for products that are clearly labeled as allergen-free. (7)
Avoid products with fillers, artificial colors, additives, or sweeteners
Some dietary supplements contain added ingredients to improve the flavor, appearance, and shelf life of the product. These added ingredients provide no nutritive value to the product and some evidence suggests that certain added ingredients may pose a threat to your health. For example, titanium dioxide and certain artificial colors have been linked to cancer and hyperactivity in children. (3)(5)(11)(14) Although more research is needed to better understand the negative effects of added artificial ingredients, choosing a high-quality multivitamin may be the best option.
Check for quality standards
Many products are manufactured according to strict quality, purity, and safety standards. Search for products manufactured according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) to ensure the product is safe and its contents are accurately indicated on the label.
Find a multivitamin specific to your needs
With many multivitamin formulations available, it’s best to choose a product specifically formulated for your gender, life stage, or condition (e.g., pregnancy). (15) Your integrative healthcare practitioner can help you determine which multivitamin formula is best for your needs.
Best multivitamin for women
Nutrition requirements vary based on a woman’s stage of life. During reproductive years, adequate iron is necessary to account for blood loss occurring during menstruation. To reduce the risk for miscarriage, birth abnormalities, and low-birthweight infants, pregnant women require greater amounts of certain vitamins and minerals, such as iron and folic acid. (15)
After menopause, the need for iron decreases, and other nutrients are needed in greater abundance. Calcium and vitamin D are especially important for post-menopausal women to protect against bone loss and fractures. (15) Including a multivitamin with adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D can help support women’s bone health.
Best multivitamin for men
Multivitamins formulated explicitly for men typically contain little to no iron as men require less iron than women due to the fact that they do not menstruate. Adequate amounts should be obtainable through dietary sources unless the individual is following a low-iron diet. (15) Additionally, multivitamins for senior men will usually include additional calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. (15) Men’s formulas will often contain other nutrients beneficial for their unique needs, such as lycopene for prostate health and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) for a healthy heart. (9)(22)
The bottom line
Supplements are not a replacement for a healthy and diverse diet, however, long-term multivitamin supplementation has been shown to support some long-term health needs. If you’re a patient, consult your integrative healthcare practitioner to help you choose a high-quality multivitamin specific to your needs.
- American Optometric Association. (n.d.). Age-related macular degeneration. Retrieved August 11, 2020, from https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/eye-and-vision-problems/glossary-of-eye-and-vision-conditions/macular-degeneration
- Bailey, R. L., Fakhouri, T. H., Park, Y., Dwyer, J. T., Thomas, P. R., Gahche, J. J., … Murray, D. M. (2015). Multivitamin-mineral use is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease mortality among women in the United States. The Journal of Nutrition, 145(3), 572–578.
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety. (2020, August 11). OSH answers fact sheets. Retrieved from https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/chem_profiles/titanium_dioxide.html
- Christen, W. G., Glynn, R. J., Manson, J. E., MacFadyen, J., Bubes, V., Schvartz, M., … Gaziano, J. M. (2014). Effects of multivitamin supplement on cataract and age-related macular degeneration in a randomized trial of male physicians. Ophthalmology, 121(2), 525–534.
- ConsumerLab.com. (2015, April 11). Titanium dioxide is listed as an ingredient in my supplement. Is it safe? Retrieved from https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/is-titanium-dioxide-in-my-supplement-safe/titanium_dioxide/
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- Evans, J. R., & Lawrenson, J. G. (2017). Antioxidant vitamin and mineral supplements for slowing the progression of age-related macular degeneration. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 7(7), 1.
- Gustavo Trujillo, J., Ignacio Caicedo, J., Bravo-Balado, A., Robledo, D., Mariño-Alvarez, A. M., Pedraza, A., … Plata, M. (2018). Efficacy of lycopene intake in primary prevention of prostate cancer: a systematic review of the literature and meta-analysis. Arch Esp Urol, 71(2), 187–197.
- Harris, E., Macpherson, H., Vitetta, L., Kirk, J., Sali, A., & Pipingas, A. (2012). Effects of a multivitamin, mineral and herbal supplement on cognition and blood biomarkers in older men: a randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, 27(4), 370–377.
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