Multivitamins have become the dietary supplement that’s escaped much of the positive and negative press of its more controversial cousins.
Armchair critics with a degree in trolling spit fury about fat burners and the over-reliance of caffeine, they decry the pseudo-scientific hyperbole waxed lyrical by the marketeers of corporate-run sports supplement manufacturers…and in many cases, either by accident or design, they have valid arguments.
However, the Centrums and Jamiesons of this world tend to escape such scrutiny, and it’s probably because they contain Vitamins, Minerals and Micronutrients, the fabled ingredients that we need to survive.
Sure, there’s the hard-liners who label such products as “expensive pee”, but those people tend not to have too much evidence to back their statements up. The multivitamin category of dietary supplement is complicated though, because not all products are created equal.
The Benefit of (Good) Multivitamins
You can’t replace the healthy part of a diet with a multivitamin, and eat whatever you please, it doesn’t work that way. Whole foods are still the best way to get your balance of vitamins and nutrients.
Scientists aren’t sure why exactly, but no matter how hard we try, we cannot manufacture a true food replacement that keeps us as healthy as the real thing. Nature’s taken a long time to engineer our food, and some of it is just too complex and well-balanced to try and synthesize.
“Supplement” is the optimum word here. A dietary supplement meant to be supplemental to a healthy diet.
What multivitamins can do is provide your body with the basics, in order to boost those that your body needs at the time due to some over expenditure somewhere else (say, zinc due to sweating it out in a hot climate), or provide you with at least some to mitigate a deficiency.
It’s difficult to imagine that people in the modern developed world could be deficient in anything, but certainly in the west there is a virtual pandemic of poor nutritional sustenance.
In particular, Vitamin D and Magnesium are poorly represented.
Some multivitamins can help boost these elements, but whether they do it sufficiently enough is a question only a little research into the product itself can answer. Dosage is the key, whether or not the company is on all the shelves at the pharmacy. Supplements always come down to ingredients and dosage.
Some people have specific diet requirements that prevent them from getting certain vitamins, minerals and micronutrients; vegan, vegetarian, lactose intolerant to name a few. We’d recommend that someone with these requirements consult an expert nutritionalist to determine what they need with respect to Vitamin B complexes, iron, calcium and so on, as a multivitamin is likely to be inadequate.
The Problem with Multivitamins
It’s more of a problem of health authorities and their antiquated data. Vitamin D is a good example; most government run health organizations still recommend 400 – 800 IU (international units) a day for an adult. As a result, most multivitamins contain just that amount.
Respected research long ago determined that 400 – 800 IU is not a sufficient dosage to provide the benefits of Vitamin D. However, a supplement is meant to be used in addition to diet and, in Vitamin D’s case, natural sunlight. The issue there is that Vitamin D isn’t hugely prevalent in western diets, and many people – especially those that work indoors – don’t see enough of the sun either.
North of the 37th line of latitude, people don’t get sufficient sunlight 3 out of 4 seasons of the year.
All of this means that a multi-vitamin isn’t going to do much for you in terms of one of the vitamins you actually need to boost the most. The 400 – 800 IU dose is enough to avoid rickets. For the price of the product, is that enough compared to say a standalone Vitamin D supplement that you can control the dosage of?
The Case for Individual Supplements
It sounds like a drag to have individual supplements for everything, but the vast majority of what is contained within multivitamin supplement is rather superfluous. Most people are not deficient in most of the contents.
In contrast, you could get more benefit from a more powerful dose of the Vitamins and Micronutrients you really need from a stand-alone product, and price-wise it won’t be any more expensive.
A good Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol is D3 and better absorbed than D2) supplement, perhaps a Zinc supplement if you sweat a lot (either from exercise) and perhaps a magnesium supplement.
Multivitamin products are by no means terrible. They are better than nothing, where nothing is the alternative, but if you have a reasonable diet, most of the ingredients are waste…and that is room and money that could be used to boost the elements you actually need boosting.