Is taking a multivitamin a waste of money, or does it have its benefits?
If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that for the most part, I’m not a fan of most supplements. However, I do recommend taking a multivitamin. A basic one-a-day multi will help you get essential nutrients for a few cents a day. And, if your diet is typical of most Americans, it might not be a bad idea
Vitamin deficiencies can cause serious problems. Not enough vitamin C can cause scurvy, vitamin D deficiency leads to rickets, and pellagra is caused by niacin deficiency (which is rare in Western countries).
There’s a big difference between getting enough nutrients to avoid malnutrition and being well-nourished. Data collected in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey suggest that Americans are falling well short of the recommended intake of many nutrients.
Less than one in five Americans get the recommended amount of vitamin E, for example. Only about one in four get enough potassium, and fewer than half of us are getting the recommended amount of vitamin A or calcium. These inadequacies may set us up for heart disease, osteoporosis, and other degenerative diseases.
Of course, it’s possible to get all the nutrition you need without resorting to supplements, but you’d need to eat a balanced diet, and there wouldn’t be a whole lot of room for empty calories. Few of us can pull this off consistently. A basic multivitamin is an easy and inexpensive way to cover the gaps.
Less is more
Are the super-duper multivitamins that go way beyond a basic multi better for you?
Once you go beyond the basic multi, you’re more likely to run into problems. For one thing, you can easily exceed the safe upper limit for specific vitamins. For example, if you’re taking a high-dose multivitamin plus an antioxidant formula, you’ll almost certainly be getting more than 10,000 IUs of vitamin A, not even counting any vitamin A you get from your diet. That’s more than considered to be safe.
High doses of some nutrients can also interfere with the absorption of other nutrients. Let’s say someone’s taking a high-dose multi plus an immune-boosting supplement or a prostate health formula. The combination could easily contain over 50mg of zinc, which could interfere with your absorption of copper and cause a copper deficiency.
You’re very unlikely to run into any of these sorts of issues with a basic one-a-day multivitamin. Plus, taking a lot of extra nutritional supplements doesn’t appear to make you any healthier. Several significant long-term studies have found that taking antioxidants doesn’t seem to protect against heart disease or cancer, as we had hoped they might. It appears that, in some cases, high-dose antioxidant supplements might increase your risk.
When Should I Take my Multi?
It’s best to take it with some food. Taking vitamins on an empty stomach can sometimes cause an upset stomach. Taking them with food, which stimulates the release of digestive juices and enzymes, can help you absorb the nutrients better. Keep in mind that taking a vitamin pill can’t make up for a poor diet. The best way to get your nutrients is from fresh, whole foods.
Food will always trump pills.
Antioxidants do work to prevent disease and promote health, but they work best when you get them from real food rather than supplements. Spend your money at the farmers’ market instead of GNC or an Herbalife or Arbonne rep.
No amount of expensive vitamin supplements can do as much for you as a healthy, balanced diet of nutritious, minimally-processed foods. Do the very best you can with your diet. Then, consider a basic multivitamin (plus calcium) to cover the gaps in a less-than-perfect diet. This is the Multivitamin I recommend, and I take.