Your Guide to Multivitamins

Beginner's Guide:

Should You Take a Multivitamin?
Demystifying Essential Nutrients

Multivitamins are health supplements that contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, depending on what the manufacturer chooses to include. Some manufacturers produce multivitamin products that contain ingredients other than just vitamins and minerals, as there is no standard as to what constitutes a multivitamin.

Certain vitamins and minerals are essential and they have unique roles that they carry out in the body.

Multivitamin products can come in all sorts of forms including capsules, tablets, gummies, liquids, powders, and more.

It’s important to not take more than the recommended dose of a multivitamin, which should be printed on the label. Most multivitamin products recommend taking once per day, which you shouldn’t exceed.

Types of Multivitamin Supplements

The most common multivitamin supplements are products that you take once a day and that have the daily recommended amounts of the vitamins and minerals that they contain, or close to it.

With some multivitamin products, manufacturers package and market them for a specific purpose, such as for athletes, for seniors, weight control, and more. Some of these products contain herbal ingredients other than vitamins that may or may not be worth taking.

Vitamin supplements come in many forms, including:

  • Tablets
  • Capsules
  • Powders
  • Liquids
  • Multivitamins for men
  • Multivitamins for women
  • Multivitamins for senior men/women
  • Multivitamins for kids

Effects of Multivitamin Supplements

There are multiple reasons why people take multivitamin supplements. To determine the health benefits of multivitamin supplements, it’s important to take a look at what the research on the topic says. Below you’ll find some examples of the health effects of taking multivitamins.

Increase in Your Nutrient Levels

If you don’t meet the recommended intakes of nutrients, multivitamin supplements can help to fill those gaps. Many people do not get the recommended amounts of nutrients from food due to poor diet and lack of access to healthy food.

On the other hand, multivitamins can also lead you to get too much of certain nutrients, such as vitamin A, folic acid, iron, niacin, and zinc. Getting too much of these nutrients can cause adverse side effects.

You can take multivitamins to ensure that you get enough of the nutrients you need. However, multivitamins are not a substitute for eating healthy.

Multivitamins and Eye Health

More than 50% of Americans 80 years or older have had cataracts or have had cataract surgery to address the problem. (1) The older you get the more likely you are to develop cataracts. A systemic review and meta-analysis from 2014 found that there is enough evidence to support the use of multivitamin supplements to decrease the risk of developing cataracts. (2)

Macular degeneration due to aging is the leading cause of vision loss. (3) A 2012 study found that people with age-related macular degeneration who took antioxidant multivitamin/mineral supplements experienced a slower progression of the disease. However, evidence indicates that multivitamin supplements won’t prevent or delay the onset of age-related macular degeneration. (4)

Multivitamins and Memory

Certain vitamins and nutrients may help improve memory.

For example, low concentrations of vitamin B12 are associated with poorer memory performance. (5) However, if you’re not deficient in vitamin B12, supplementing with it will likely have little to no effect on your memory.

Vitamin E may also play a role in memory and brain function. Some studies indicate that supplementing Alzheimer’s patients may benefit the memory and brain. (6)

However, taking more vitamin E than you need can be harmful. Some studies suggest that too much vitamin E can increase your risk for prostate cancer. Also, vitamin E supplements are considered dangerous for anyone who’s on blood thinners.

The best way to get vitamin E is through your regular diet, so look to improve your nutritional intake through your food before supplementing with vitamin E.

Multivitamins and Mood

Taking a multivitamin may have a positive overall effect on your mood.

Researchers from a meta-analysis on the effects of vitamin/mineral supplementation on mood concluded that it “has a beneficial effect on perceived stress, mild psychiatric symptoms, and aspects of everyday mood in apparently healthy individuals”. (7)

Multivitamins and Heart Disease

If you’re looking to improve your heart health, chances are you won’t get it from multivitamins. Recent reviews on the topic found little to no evidence to support taking multivitamins for heart health.

Multivitamins and Cancer

Taking multivitamins may actually put you at a lower risk of cancer. A 2012 study followed 15,000 male doctors for 11 years and found that those who took a multivitamin had an 8% lower risk of getting cancer.

Should You Take a Multivitamin Supplement?

Multivitamins aren’t for everyone because they contain certain vitamins and minerals that can be harmful to people with conditions or be unsafe to combine with certain medications. However, multivitamin supplements do have health benefits.

Groups who may benefit from taking a multivitamin supplement include:

  • Seniors: As you get older, you may need more vitamins and minerals to maintain things like your bone health. (8) Seniors are also more likely to experience vitamin B12 deficiency. (9)
  • Vegetarians/Vegans: Vitamin B12 is only found in animal foods, so you may not be getting enough if you eat a vegetarian or vegan diet. (10) Vegetarians and vegans are also more likely to be lacking in calcium, iron, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc. (11)
  • Pregnant/Breastfeeding Women: Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need more of certain amounts of vitamins and nutrients. However, too much of certain vitamins or minerals can be harmful. Too much vitamin A, for example, can lead to birth defects. (12) That’s why it’s important to ask your doctor before starting a new dietary supplement if you’re pregnant or nursing.

You Should Get Most of Your Vitamins from Food

The best way to get the vitamins and minerals your body needs is through your food. It’s easier for the body to absorb nutrients from food than from supplements. It’s better to eat a healthy diet full of nutrients than it would be to eat a poor diet and supplement with multivitamins.

A 2019 study published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that adequate intakes of vitamin A, vitamin K, magnesium, and zinc from food (not multivitamins) was linked with lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and lower risk of death overall. (13)

Supplements Can Help Fill Nutritional Gaps

Multivitamin supplements potentially fill in important nutritional gaps. Multivitamin supplements may even help prevent conditions such as “anemia, neural tube defects, and osteoporosis”. Additionally, “some evidence supports possible benefits of MVM supplementation with regard to cancer prevention (particularly in men) and prevention or delay of cataract, as well as some aspects of cognitive performance”. (14)

Can Multivitamin Supplements be Harmful?

Yes, multivitamin supplements can be harmful for certain people, which is why it’s important to not take more than you need and be cautious when choosing a multivitamin supplement if you have a condition.

Some of the more common side effects of multivitamins may include:

  • Headache
  • Upset stomach/Nausea
  • Unpleasant aftertaste
  • Increased urination
  • Teeth staining
  • Muscle weakness
  • Stomach bleeding
  • Confusion
  • Uneven heart rate

If you’re pregnant, nursing, have a condition, or take a medication regularly, you should check with your doctor before taking a multivitamin supplement.

Interactions with Multivitamin Supplements

For the most part, multivitamin supplements and medication won’t interact with each other, but there are exceptions.

For instance, medications to prevent blood clotting don’t mix well with vitamin K.

Be sure to speak with your doctor before taking a multivitamin supplement if you’re on medication to be on the safe side.

Common Vitamins Found in Vitamin Supplements

  • Biotin
  • Borate
  • Calcium
  • Folic acid
  • Iodine
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Molybdenum
  • Potassium
  • Niacin
  • Riboflavin
  • Thiamin
  • Pantothenic acid
  • Selenium
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K
  • Zinc

Statistics on Multivitamin Supplements

  • You should be able to get your recommended amount of vitamin D from 15 minutes of exposure to sunlight, but 40% of Americans don’t
  • Over 40 percent of the population doesn’t get enough calcium from their diet
  • Half of all American adults take a multivitamin