Updated: Sep 24, 2020
People often ask me ‘what is the best multivitamin to take?’
This often come from the belief that multivitamins can improve health, compensate for poor eating habits, and even reduce your risk of chronic diseases. But what is the truth behind this?
We require 10 vitamins and 16 minerals to achieve optimum health. Multivitamins/minerals come in a range of form such as, tablets, capsules, chewable gummies, powders, and liquids. Their formulas vary from brand to brand, and who they are designed for. For example, a pregnant woman vitamins and minerals needs are much different than a man over 65.
They can be purchased from many outlets like health shops, supermarkets, MLMs, online, etc. Their quality and costs vary. A mass-produced shop bought one will be of lesser quality than an independent science-based company who produce their products from good quality ingredients and often from real food. Mass produced supplements are normally produced from synthetic ingredients, generally have low efficacy, and may contain ingredients and chemicals that may not be beneficial for the body.
Are multivitamins effective against chronic and ageing disease?
In the case of heart disease, the scientific evidence is mixed. For example, one study on women only, showed that a multivitamin taken for 3 years reduced the risk of dying from a heart disease is 35% lower. However, another study with 14,000 male doctors showed no reduction in heart attacks, strokes, or mortality. Despite several studies suggesting that they are associated with lower heart disease, there are equally as many that show there is no connection.
With cancer and multivitamins, the evidence is also mixed. In a large randomised control trial they found a lower risk of cancer with men taking a multivitamin, but none with women. Two observational studies did show that they reduced the risk of colon cancer in men and women, however a diet high in fibre from plant-based food also shows greater protection against colon cancer. Another study showed that high levels of beta-carotene, pro-vitamin A, in multivitamins increases the risk of lung cancer in smokers.
In elderly people, multivitamins have shown both to improve memory function and improve moods. For eye health, one study shows that the use of antioxidant minerals and vitamins may slow down the progression of age-related macular degeneration, but other studies show no evidence in preventing the disease. There is some evidence to show that the prevention of age-related cataracts may benefit from a multivitamin/mineral.
Who would benefit from taking a multivitamin?
As shown above the elderly may benefit from taking a multivitamin especially as the may have reduced appetite and poor absorption of vitamin and minerals as a result of ageing.
In pre-pregnant and pregnant women, there is a need to increase both vitamins and minerals to help to prepare a woman for pregnancy and for the development of the baby. It is especially important for the baby that they receive adequate amounts of folic acid. However, it is especially important for a pregnant mother to avoid large amounts of vitamin A, as this has been linked to birth defects. A pregnant woman should consult their midwife or doctor for advice on vitamins and minerals during pregnancy.
Other people who may benefit from a multivitamin include people with digestive issues such as Crohn’s or coeliac disease due to poor absorption on nutrients, people on low calorie diets, those who don’t get enough nutrients from foods or those with a poor appetite.
Unless you have been living on Mars lately you will know that the toilet roll shortage is due to panic buying because of a coronavirus called COVID-19, which has been upgraded to a pandemic. We still do not know the impact of this virus. At this time, it may or may not be beneficial to take a multivitamin short term to give extra support to your immune system during this time of uncertainty.
My recommendations* are:
Cytoplan wholefood multivitamin and mineral https://www.cytoplan.co.uk/wholefood-multivitamin-mineral
Wild Nutrition Food-Grown Immune support https://www.wildnutrition.com/products/food-grown-immune-support
BioCare Immune Intensive https://www.biocare.co.uk/immune-intensive-7-sachets
Can multivitamins be harmful?
As we have already mentioned that in smokers high levels of vitamin A may promote lung cancer, and that it is not beneficial for the development of the unborn baby. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin which can be stored by the body, so a build up of this vitamin happens over time and causes vitamin A toxicity. Other fat-soluble vitamins also include vitamins D, E and K. Vitamins E and K have not shown to be non-toxic, however high levels of Vitamin D has. In the UK it is more likely someone would be low or insufficient in Vitamin D, however, long term use of a multivitamin may accumulate and cause toxicity within the body.
Minerals toxicity may also become a problem. For example, iron excess may result in some people who do not need to supplement with iron. Men and menopausal women generally do not need to supplement with iron. Symptoms of iron excess include chronic fatigue, joint pain, abdominal pain, liver disease, irregular heart rhythm, skin colour changes, hair loss, elevated blood sugar and many more.
Another example is when people take too much zinc for a long time, they sometimes have problems such as low copper levels, lower immunity, and low levels of HDL “good” cholesterol. Symptoms of too much zinc may cause nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, and headaches.
What is the best way to get our mineral and vitamins?
You cannot use multi-vitamins to substitute a poor diet. Wholefoods are required not just for their nutrients but also for their fibre. We know that a diet high in wholefood fibre from vegetables and grain provide us with food for our gut bacteria. Starve the gut bacteria and no amount of multivitamins and minerals in capsule form will prevent us from chronic disease. Our gut bacteria is crucial to keeping our gut healthy and communicating with our body to provide good mental health, good body composition, and helps to keep inflammation at bay. A thriving microbiome in the gut will protects us from invading pathogens keeping our immune system strong and preventing poor health. A pill cannot and does not provide this long term.
Here are some general guidelines for ensuring you have plenty of necessary nutrients in your diet.
Eating 7+ vegetables and fruit per day will go along way to providing much of our nutrient intake. Eating a diet rich in colourful vegetation is essential for long term health that will help not only provide the mineral, vitamins and antioxidants that we need but will provide the fibre to support our gut health.
Good quality proteins such as meat, poultry, chicken, fish and eggs to provide us with iron, choline, and B12. If you are vegan or vegetarian you may need to look at supplementation of these minerals to ensure you have adequate amounts for your body.
Ensure that you have essential fatty acids in your diet. This includes oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, grass-fed red meat, and olive oil.
Whole grains which contain greater level of nutrients than white processed counterparts like bread, pasta and rice. Choose instead brown, red or wild rice, wholemeal bread, brown rice, buckwheat, red lentil pasta, quinoa, oats, etc.
Fermented foods are rich in vitamin C, iron, and zinc, as well as probiotics which support good gut health.
As a Nutritionist, when working with clients I use their questionnaire to identify specific nutrient deficiencies. I may also recommend tests, such as blood tests, stools tests, organic acid tests, and/or hair mineral tests to further identify nutrient status. I rarely recommend a multivitamin, unless it’s for a short period of time while we are getting to the bottom of things! When I do use supplements they are tailored to a client’s specific needs to address the underlying issues and to support the client achieving their desired health goals. For more details on working with me, have a look at the services we provide here.
*Please note that supplements should not be taken for more than 3 months without consulting a doctor or qualified health practitioner. If you have a health condition or are on medication you should consult your doctor before taking any supplements.
Marie Jarvis, Nutritional Therapist / Nutritionist, BANT