So, Should you be taking them?
The multivitamin debate is one that has been going on for a long time now. Some suggest taking a multivitamin a day is good for nothing more then giving you vitamin dense urine, others suggest they are essential for maintaining good health. But what are the facts?
The simple truth is that we can get the majority of nutrients we need through diet alone. The sad truth is that less then 5% of us eat the varied diets required to get the full spectrum of nutrients we need. Even if we were to eat the most diverse and healthy foods available there would still be gaps.
In the last 20 years evidence on vitamin supplementation and chronic illness has been choppy at best. While there are many studies that suggest supplementing your diet with multivitamins may help prevent some chronic illness, there are equally as many studies suggesting they offer little to no benefit.
So what do we do?
Well, the simple fact is most of us have deficiencies of at least a few nutrients, the most common ones being vitamins B6 and B12, folic acid, vitamin D and vitamin E. We know that a lack of folic acid in pregnant woman can lead to neural tube defects in children. Lack of vitamin D can lead to osteoporosis, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and certain forms of cancer. B6 and B12 deficiencies can lead to blood disorders, depression and lethargy. A lack of vitamin E can lead to vision problems, as well as liver and kidney issues. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are countless other nutrients that may be lacking in our diets along with countless illnesses that may accompany these deficiencies.
Now ask yourself, Is your health worth a few pennies a day? If you answered yes, taking a multi-v is a probably a good idea. While more research is needed on the effectiveness of vitamin supplementation, I think its fair to say taking a multi-v as insurance isn't the worst idea anyone’s ever had. There is some strong evidence to support the benefits of supplementation, and I like to think that getting some nutrients via a pill is better then getting none at all. Especially when its your health at play.
Buying a multivitamin: Not all vitamins are created equal.
Woman and men have different nutritional requirements and it may be beneficial to look for a multi-v that tailored to your gender. Woman for example may want to look for a multivitamin that contains iron, as this is needed to create the haemoglobin needed to replace lost blood from menstruation. Men on the other hand do not require this extra iron and may want to avoid it, as it can cause serious health issues as it builds up in the blood stream. Some gender specific multivitamins also contain minerals, herbs and extracts that may be beneficial to the genders their targeting.
Then there is the synthetic vs natural debate. Almost all the vitamins you see on the shelves of your local department or health store are likely synthetic, meaning they are man made, and not from natural sources. Natural vitamins on the other hand are derived from organic sources such as fruits, vegetables, sea weeds, etc. The argument here is that naturally derived vitamins also contain the complementary components that our body uses to help breakdown and absorb these nutrients, which synthetics lack. This sounds good in the theory, and may actually have some merit as it is believed that synthetics may not be fully absorbed by the body. Of course this is another area that needs more research, so I would suggest purchasing what your budget allows, as natural vitamins are several times more expensive.
You may also want to pay attention to the vitamin A content of the brand you choose. While vitamin A is vital for good health, too much of it can cause issues, such as the loss of bone mass. Most nutritional guidelines suggest woman shoot for about 2000-2300IU and men aim for closer to 3000IU of vitamin A per day. Its easy to overdue it as this vitamin is so common in the foods we eat. Its also worth noting that if you take fish oils daily, to pay attention to the vitamin A content in those products, as cod liver oil is rich in vitamin A. When combined with a multivitamin you may be doubling or tripling your recommended daily intake.