As with any true debate, the argument over the need for multivitamins persists with nutrition literature and holistic providers on the pro side and various medical professionals on the other. The studies aren’t exactly straightforward. A National Institute of Health report in 2006 did not find compelling evidence to support a daily multivitamin, but did find that certain vitamins were beneficial. This only confuses the discussion, as most of these vitamins are found in standard multivitamins.

According to a 2002 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), “suboptimal levels of vitamins, even well above those causing deficiency syndromes, are risk factors for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and osteoporosis. A large proportion of the general population is apparently at increased risk for this reason.” Translation, the Standard American Diet provides insufficient amounts of these vitamins. Mark one up for the pro-multivitamin crowd.

As we’ve covered, the SAD does not provide an optimal level of nutrients. Should those who consume these diets consider daily supplementation, or should they just consider improving their overall nutrition? What about those who already have sound nutrition? This is actually the group most likely to take a daily multivitamin, but do they need it?

Scientific evidence may never answer these questions, but in my opinion, a multivitamin is a good idea for nearly everyone. Overall, it’s a great insurance policy for meeting optimal nutrient levels every day. Even those nourishing themselves properly cannot guarantee their foods come from high-nutrient soils. The environment provides a lot of stress to our cells in the form of radiation and toxins, and a multivitamin can help ensure adequate intake of antioxidants for added protection.

A multivitamin should never be the primary source of nutrient intake. There are no substitutes for what whole, natural foods provide the body, not even a vitamin.

Optimal wellness priority list:

  1. Eat right. It is the foundation of wellness, as without it, all other efforts are less effective. Proper nutrition can obviate the need for all other steps (with the exception of regular exercise). Once established, supplementation is only necessary for correcting specific issues or as an insurance policy.
  2. Exercise regularly. This is equally as important as proper nutrition. Regular exercise can prevent diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease. It’s also the best defense against anxiety and depression.
  3. Specific supplementation. Based on personal or family history, you might need specific supplementation to help support inadequacies or specific illnesses. Choices of supplements and doses may be based on specific blood levels (vitamin D), or trial and error combined with listening to your body (i.e. supplementing with magnesium and adjusting dosing based on bowel tolerance).
  4. General multivitamin:Optimize: Although there are recommended daily guidelines, they were established merely to prevent deficiency. When looking to achieve optimal wellness, you should have a goal of optimal nutrient intake, but remember these levels might be difficult to reach. Individual needs will vary based on environment, digestion and nutrition, to name a few. Insurance: This would apply to those who already consume a balanced diet strong in fresh fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts, combined with lean sources of protein and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. Although most days the optimal levels of all vitamins and minerals are consumed, this isn’t guaranteed. Taking a multivitamin daily will insure that these nutrients are obtained. Some vitamins and minerals will be taken in excess, but as long as daily intake remains in the safe range, there is no reason for concern. The Standard American Diet: If you fall into this category, the need for supplementation is a no-brainer. Though the SAD includes some nutrients at levels that prevent deficiency, most nutrients are suboptimal and others lacking altogether. In addition, the vitamins and minerals that are added to highly processed foods can be insufficient in dosage or type. For example, most vitamin D fortification is done using vitamin D-2, or ergocalciferol, not the recommended form, vitamin D-3. One should also assume the food industry is not using pharmaceutical grade minerals due to cost. Medication use: Many medications have the side effect of altering vitamin and mineral levels in the body. For example, long-term use of acid-suppressing medications has been shown to effect adequate absorption of certain B vitamins and selenium. There’s a laundry list of medications that alter the levels of magnesium, B vitamins and COQ10.
Evaluating your need.

Testing an individual’s specific vitamin levels is becoming more popular. This is a great, although expensive, way to evaluate your need, or lack thereof, for a multivitamin. The key is to check the levels inside the cells. For most nutrients, blood level readings are meaningless because the body goes to great lengths to keep levels in the normal range. To do this, it steals certain nutrients from the cells, where they are most needed. With this measurement, you can truly learn whether supplementation is necessary, and if necessary, a program can be tailored to your specific needs. Follow-up testing is available to confirm that optimal levels have been reached.

I’ve decided to take a multivitamin. What should I look for?

I have yet to find the perfect multivitamin, but there are certainly options that are better than others. Let’s go over what’s important and in what form.