Do I Need a Multivitamin?

Vitamins should come from food whenever possible. But, are there any conditions where we would need a multivitamin? Click to learn more and receive your free vitamin cheatsheet. |Food Farmacist RD|

Have you ever heard someone say “don’t take a multivitamin, you’re wasting your money”? Me too. So, what’s the truth? Do we need a multivitamin or not? And if so, then how do we know which one to choose?

First, let’s tackle this question: do you really need a multivitamin?

Unfortunately, there’s no quick answer. For those generally healthy people (no chronic conditions) who eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber, balanced proteins and healthy fats, a multivitamin may have little benefit to you. Here’s the catch: most of the U.S. population does not fit into this category. Less than 10 percent of adults meet the fruit or vegetable recommendation (2 cups per day of fruit, 3+ cups per day of vegetables).

This percentage is even lower if you are a male and/or a “young adult”.  Even more concerning? The data is self-reported. Most of us tend to fib towards our own favor when talking about our diet, so this 10 percent could truly be even lower.  Yikes.

Certain medications may be linked to vitamin deficiencies.

The most common one? The birth control pill. In a research review, the pill was shown to decrease the levels of six nutrients: riboflavin (B2), pyridoxine (B6), folate, B12, vitamin C, and zinc.  There are varying opinions in the health world about this, but I generally recommend any woman in her child-bearing years, on birth control or not, should be taking a quality multivitamin. Click my free cheat sheet at the end of this post to see which brands I recommend!

There are a lot of other medications linked to lower vitamin and/or mineral levels like statins (for cholesterol), blood pressure medications, and more. Click here to read a full list!

Related post: How to Choose the Best Probiotic: A Guide

I have ______ condition or circumstance. Should I take a multivitamin?

Most people know that pregnant women and those women trying to become pregnant should be taking a prenatal vitamin. This is because growing a baby is freaking hard work! Our body requires extra vitamins and minerals during this time to ensure that mom and baby are both healthy.

But that’s not the only instance where our body requires more nutrients. Certain conditions may increase our demand for vitamins and/or minerals.

  1. Autoimmune disease.

    This includes conditions like Crohn’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and Lupus. Research consistently shows a correlation between Vitamin D deficiency and autoimmune disease. Up to 65% of patients with Crohn’s have low Vitamin D levels. Also, some research has shown higher Vitamin D levels with a lower chance of relapse in MS patients. These types of conditions may suggest a Vitamin D supplement on its own, or within a multivitamin. Experts agree that supplementation for these conditions between 2,000-4,000 IU Vitamin D per day are safe.

  2. Osteoporosis.

    Calcium is not the only vitamin to consider if you have osteoporosis/osteopenia (or if you’re at higher risk for developing bone loss). These people need to ensure they receive adequate amounts of vitamin D and magnesium as well! Vitamin K2 can also help to transport calcium from your blood to your bones, and improve bone density.

  3. Constipation.

    People with chronic constipation or IBS-C may benefit from a magnesium supplement.  Magnesium helps by pulling water into the gut to soften stools. There are several types of oral magnesium available.  (Note, because of poor absorption, I do not recommend  magnesium oxide). Magnesium citrate is a more effective and cost friendly option for constipation.

  4. Aging.

    We absorb less Vitamin B12 as we age. The reason, is because our stomach produces less acid with age. When we have less acid, we have a reduced ability to digest B12 from food sources. Chronic use of reflux medications can also cause this to happen!

  5. Vegan and Vegetarian lifestyles.

    Since vitamin B12 is solely found in animal products, people following this eating pattern are recommended to take a B12 supplement, or a daily multivitamin containing at least 10 mcg B12. Some plant-based foods are fortified with B12 (like nutritional yeast, plant-based milks, or breakfast cereals), but requires extra effort to ensure you are eating at least 2-3 servings of these foods daily.

The main takeaway is…

Are multivitamins needed? We should always try to get more of our nutrition from food, but some conditions may require extra supplementation. Click to find the best multivitamin for you. | best multivitamin|

As my favorite mantra goes, food is truly a powerful medicine. We should still be striving to increase fruits and vegetables in our eating patterns, and getting our nutrients from real foods. However, I like to think of a multivitamin as a simple insurance policy, with the caveat that it should not replace quality nutrients from food, but add to the quality of our diet (especially in certain circumstances, like above).  So, that being said, how do we choose the best multivitamin?

Here are 5 things to look for in a high-quality multivitamin:

  • Choose a capsule with powder inside, over a compacted tablet. This maximizes absorption (especially for those of you with GI conditions).
  • Limited additives. Look for the least amount of “other ingredients” as possible. Try to limit additives like colorings, sugar alcohols, lactose, and dyes.
  • Look for methylated forms of folate. Methylated folate is the active form that your body can readily use.  Up to forty percent of the population is suspected to have a genetic mutation called MTHFR, where they cannot utilize the “regular” form of folate as well. The MTHFR mutation may have a connection to disorders like depression, and even recurrent miscarriages, especially in people of Asian descent. Although professional opinions vary, most functional medicine experts suggest taking a methylated form of folate to ensure you are receiving the most active form of the vitamin.
  • Third party verified. Supplements and vitamins are not regulated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) like medications. So, they can contain pretty much anything regardless of the label (no one wants to take an expensive salt pill). Some vitamins show their third party testing right on the label, whereas others do not (but disclose it on their website).
  • Look for chelated minerals. These are minerals that are attached to an amino acid (protein molecule), and easier for your body to absorb and utilize than non-chelated minerals.  Examples of this include:

    Calcium citrate-malate (NOT calcium carbonate)

    Zinc bisglycinate chelate (NOT zinc oxide)

    Selenomethionine (NOT sodium selenite)

Ok, so that’s a lot of information. How do I go about finding the best one for me?

Vitamins and minerals can be quite individualized. Find a qualified health practitioner (like a registered dietitian) who can help assess your nutrition to determine if you need one, and if so, which one is best for you. If you want to browse my online dispensary (most of which are third-party verified), set up your free account here!

Disclaimer: please talk to your doctor before starting or stopping any new vitamins and/or supplements. 

We should be getting our nutrients from food whenever possible, but certain conditions may require extra supplementation. Learn how to choose a quality multivitamin here! Plus, grab your free cheatsheet of my most recommended vitamins!