|Why Take a Multivitamin?|
There are lots of good reasons to take a multivitamin. Even the best eating plans can fall short of meeting all of the 40-plus nutrients you need each day. Most Americans fail to meet dietary recommendations for many reasons, including strict dieting, poor appetite, changing nutritional needs, or less-than-healthy food choices. Taking a once-daily multivitamin is an easy way to fill in small nutritional gaps.
But strolling down the vitamin aisle to choose the best multivitamin can be confusing. With so many different brands and varieties to choose from, it’s hard to know where to begin.
In a nutshell, it’s wise to make sure your diet is complete with all the nutrients needed for health and wellness.
Healthy eating remains the best source of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. A multivitamin is not a substitute for healthy food or a healthy lifestyle, but it can provide a nutritional back-up for a less-than-ideal diet. "If your diet eliminates whole food groups or you don’t eat enough variety of foods -- you would benefit from a once-daily multivitamin," says Karen Ansel, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans identified calcium, vitamin D, dietary fiber, and potassium as nutrients of concern for inadequate intake in adults and children. All of these nutrients, except fiber, come packaged in a multivitamin. Fiber can be obtained as a separate supplement, but it's still best to try to get all your fiber from the foods you eat.
Although some evidence questions the benefit of a daily multivitamin and its ability to stave off disease, many people add them to their diet to maintain or boost health.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more than half of U.S. adults take dietary supplements. Multivitamins are the most commonly used supplement, with 40% of men and women reporting they take a daily multivitamin.
The Harvard School of Public Health suggests a once daily multivitamin with extra vitamin D for most people as a nutritional back-up. The Linus Pauling Institute’s Micronutrient Information Center at Oregon State University suggests taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement with 100% of the Daily Value (DV) for most vitamins and essential minerals to maintain health.
|What to Look for in a Multivitamin|
Experts may not agree about the effects of daily multivitamins. But, in bridging nutrient gaps, it’s reasonable to assume that multivitamins not only support general health, but may help head off chronic conditions or other health risks. For example, a woman could take a supplement containing folic acid to help avoid some birth defects, or a supplement with calcium and vitamin D to lower her risk of osteoporosis.
The risk of dietary deficiencies is greater than the risk of overdosing on a multivitamin. "Most American diets are missing nutrients and taking a once daily multivitamin will not cause harm, and has the potential to improve a nutrient-poor diet," Ansel says.
Selecting Multivitamins for Your Age and Sex
|Tips for Storing Vitamins|
Supplements don’t last forever and can lose potency over time, especially when not kept in proper storage. Check expiration dates, store in a dry, cool place and avoid hot, humid storage locations like bathrooms.
Keep supplements in a secure location out of children’s reach.
|Which Multivitamin Form Should You Choose?|
Most multivitamins come in capsules, but are also available as tablets, powders, chewables and gummies, and liquids and injectable formulations that can be administered by health care providers.
In addition to varying amounts of vitamins and minerals, the difference between them is the rate your body absorbs the supplement. Liquids tend to be absorbed quicker, while coated pills are slower because the coating prevents absorption in the stomach.
If you have trouble swallowing pills, you may find a gel-coated capsule or liquid easier to swallow.
Some people prefer to take multivitamins with breakfast or before bed. It really doesn’t matter what time of day you take your vitamin, but taking them with food can help lessen any stomach discomfort.
The government sets tolerable upper limits on most vitamins and minerals, which take into account the nutrients also provided by the food and beverages you eat. Composition of multivitamins varies by brand, but each must contain three or more vitamins and minerals at a dose below the tolerable upper limit, and not include herbs, hormones, or drugs.
Vitamin supplements are regulated by the FDA as “dietary supplements” -- which are products taken by mouth intended to supplement the diet.
A measure of safety is to look for the designation "USP" on the label. A multivitamin that meets the requirements of the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) meets the standards and ensures the product is pure and actually contains the listed ingredients.
Finally, it is always a good idea to consult your health care provider when taking any supplement, especially if you take prescription or over-the-counter medication, or have a history of a chronic condition, such as cancer.