Choosing a multivitamin can be a daunting task even for those of us that are really nutritionally savvy. There are tons of options and lots of misinformation. You may think that you eat a balanced diet so may not need supplements but did you know that in 2002 the American Medical Association began recommending a daily multivitamin for everyone? They studied the relationship between disease and vitamin intake for nearly 40 years’ worth of data and found that lower levels of vitamins correlated with a variety of chronic disease risks including cancer and heart disease. The following information will help you make smarter choices when picking out a brand and formulation for you and your loved ones.
Different supplements are helpful for different life stages so it’s important to know what you really need. For example, a pre-menopausal woman would benefit from iron where a man or post-menopausal woman wouldn’t. That said, the FDA doesn’t regulate most claims, so a claim of senior formula, advanced, or complete for example does not mean the same thing from brand to brand.
Brands differ not only in the formulation of nutrients in terms of form and concentration, but they also vary in terms of additional ingredients. Some will contain milk, wheat, soy and yeast which are important to note if you have food allergies or sensitivities. Other common unexpected ingredients are disintegrating agents which swell when wet to aid in tablet or capsule disintegration, flow agents like oils or waxes to facilitate the movement of the supplement through machinery and coating to ease swallowing. The most commonly sold supplement in the United States has hydrogenated palm oil and polyethylene glycol in it. Reading the label is the only way to know what you are putting in your body.
When choosing a brand I look for as many optimal bioavailable forms of vitamins and minerals possible for the price. You should also consider dose (one time a day versus 4 times a day) and form. If you can’t swallow pills look for liquid forms; remembering to take your vitamin and not loathing the experience makes all the difference in the world towards your compliance.
A good multivitamin will contain approximately 100% of the daily value for thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6), B12 and folate. Choose a formulation with relatively equal percentages of B6, B12 and folate (as oppose to 50% of one and 4000% of another) as they are all required for the formulation of methionine. The most bioavailable source for B6 is Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate (P5P) and for B12 it’s methylcobalamin. For folate, look for folate and not for folic acid; they are not the same. Folic acid is a synthetic variant and will block the natural folate receptors on the cell.
For vitamin A look for water soluble beta carotene as opposed to fat soluble retinal or retinal so that your body can absorb what it needs. Mass doses of Vitamin A as retinal or retinol (often called vitamin A palmitate or acetate) are linked to weaker bones, liver abnormalities, birth defects and lung cancer in smokers. The best formulation for vitamin E is D-alpha-tocopherol or mixed tocopherols (tocotrienols). The synthetic form of vitamin E, the DL form, does not provide the same benefits as the natural form. The best way to get vitamin D is through sunshine. Natural sunlight activates two water soluble sulfur based chemicals in our skin that are not available through supplementation, but if you need to supplement look for D3 or cholecalciferol. Vitamin D creates vitamin K2-dependent proteins to move calcium into your bones so look for K2 or menaquinone in your supplements.
For strong bones, as said you need vitamin D and K, but you also need protein, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, zinc, boron, copper, silica and more! Don’t just take calcium, look for supplements (and food sources) that are rich in all of the above. Calcium is best in the citrate or malate form, but better is to get what you need from food. If you take a calcium supplement take it separately from your iron supplement as it competes for absorption. Also take calcium with meals. Magnesium glycinate is a chelated form of magnesium that tends to provide the highest levels of absorption and bioavailability but is also the most expensive of the options available. The most bioavailable forms of iron are iron fumarate or iron malate.
Other important supplements are pre and pro biotics and omega-3 fatty acids. I’ll have to leave that topic for another day so that your brain doesn’t explode. Remember supplements are exactly that; supplements. Meant to add to and fill out a diverse and healthy whole foods diet.