Weighing in on Multi-Vitamins

For decades, health care professionals have been recommending to their patients that they take a multi-vitamin to support their health. My clinical experience suggests that this recommendation is not true for everyone.

This is for two reasons, (1) not all multi-vitamins are created equal, and therefore some are not worth the money spent, and (2) most vitamins and minerals are better absorbed as part of your diet rather then in a pill. This article will give you the guidelines to determine what, if any, multi-vitamin products are worth your time and money and how to assess if you need to incorporate one into your regiment.

“Do I need to take a multi-vitamin?”

This question could simply be answered through observing the quantity and quality of foods that you enjoy or consume each day. Does your daily diet include a minimum of 4 servings of vegetables, 2 servings of fruit, and 3 servings of quality protein? I’ve found that these minimal servings are sufficient for optimal health. Our bodies require a nutrition spectrum that includes measurable units of nutrition represented by categories like; B vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin K, proteins, vitamin C, iodine, etc to fuel it’s metabolic activity. These building blocks are found in abundance in a well-balanced diet of whole food products: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts/seeds, and animal meat. Focus on changing the way you fuel your body, emphasizing whole foods in place of parts of the nutritional spectrum. If your diet consists of a great deal of processed food, fast food, or engineered food you are likely lacking these essential nutrients and you may be a candidate for taking a multi-vitamin.

But, not so fast, why we eat, how we eat and when we eat are almost as important as what we eat. A well-intentioned person with a well balanced diet yet poor habits may also find themselves in need of support. These poor habits include eating in front of the computer, or in the car, chewing food too quickly and swallowing large undigested portions of their food. This person is not taking advantage of all the minerals and vitamins available in their food. Therefore the ability to properly absorb all this food has to offer is challenged. Digestion and absorption play a significant role in my recommendation for supplements.

In order to have proper breakdown of food one must thoroughly chew the food and ease into a relaxed state. This will allow for all the proper channels of digestion to be optimized. When one eats quickly stomach acid and, subsequent, digestive enzymes have to work harder to breakdown the food was not thoroughly chewed.

Stress initially decreases the stomach’s ability to secrete hydrochloric acid (HCL) and we need HCL to breakdown our foods into the useable building blocks of amino acids, glucose, vitamins, and minerals. A person who eats on the go, at the workstation, or wolfs down their balanced diet does not need a multi-vitamin but lifestyle modification. Simply restructuring the way they eat can alleviate the need to supplement naturally.

For pregnant women, I always recommend a quality multi-vitamin for peri-natal and prenatal health. It is best to get a quality product that will give you an adequate folic acid or folate to ensure the health of your baby.


“How do I pick out the perfect, or at least the best multi-vitamin for me?”

Knowledge is power…making an informed decision is key. In lieu of naming supplement companies that I prefer, the following parameters should be used to evaluate your multi-vitamin:

When choosing any supplement make sure they carry the mark of one of the following professional, quality standards:

  • Consumerlab Quality Product Seal
  • NSF Mark[1]
  • USP Verified Mark[2]

Iron only for high-risk groups:

  • avoid any vitamins that contain iron, unless you have been specifically advised by your doctor to take iron
  • Check labels for lead-free guarantee[3]

Looking for specific minerals will enhance the absorption, and are less likely to cause intestinal upset. For example:

  • Zinc (Zn): Zn sulfate is the most common zinc used but, a better choice would be an organic zinc such as: Zn acetate, Zn gluconate, Zn picolinate (best choice)
  • Manganese (Mn): common to find Mn sulfate, but organic Mn might be gentler to stomach including: Mn gluconate, Mn ascorbate, Mn amino acid chelate
  • Magnesium (Mg): common to find Mg oxide, Mg chloride, but a better choice would be Mg gluconate, Mg citrate[4], Mg aspartate, and Mg amino acid chelate
  • Calcium (Ca): Calcium citrate,[5],[6],[7]malate, and gluconate better absorbed than calcium carbonate. Smaller doses absorbed better, we do not absorb more than 500 mg at once
  • May need to take a separate Calcium and Magnesium supplement to get adequate dose, best dosed at evening meal for bone health

Vitamin D: natural source is best, D3 (cholecalciferol) is more potent than D2 (ergocalciferol)[7]

Natural source for Vitamin E and carotenes, synthetic alright for others.

Choose a product with extra Vitamin C, D, E, K if possible.

Extra B12 for seniors.

If you have any further questions about multi-vitamins, please feel free to give me a call at the clinic and schedule a free consultation. As a naturopathic doctor I had the fortune of having nutritional education as part of my curriculum, so I love talking about this stuff and am happy to offer any further educational pointers that may enhance your knowledge and ultimately your health.


Be well.

– Dr. N

[1] http://www.nsf.org/consumer/dietary_supplements/index.asp?program=DietarySup

[2] http://www.usp.org/USPVerified/dietarySupplements/

[3] Scelfo GM, Flegal AR. Lead in calcium supplements. Environ Health Perspect. 2000 Apr;108(4):309-19.

[4] Walker AF, Marakis G, Christie S, Byng M. Mg citrate found more bioavailable than other Mg preparations in a randomised, double-blind study. Magnes Res. 2003 Sep;16(3):183-91.

[5] Miller J, Smith D, Flora L, et al. Calcium absorption from calcium carbonate and a new form of calcium (CCM) in healthy male and female adolescents. Am J Clin Nutr 1988;48:1291–4.

[6] Harvey JA, Kenny P, Poindexter J, Pak CY. Superior calcium absorption from calcium citrate than calcium carbonate using external forearm counting. J Am Coll Nutr 1990;9:583–7.

[7] Smith KT, Heaney RP, Flora L, Hinders SM. Calcium absorption from a new calcium delivery system (CCM). Calcif Tiss Int 1987;41:351–2.