Vitamins, especially multivitamins, are extremely popular dietary supplements.
In fact, the National Institute of Health reports that more than half of Americans take multivitamins.
Many people take them for increased energy, a stronger immune system, or to make up for nutritional gaps in their diet.
Because of their popularity, there is an overwhelming number of options to choose from, and a lot of things to consider before deciding which formula to buy.
This detailed guide to vitamins provides an in-depth view of what you should be taking and why, as well as the best way to incorporate them into your daily routine.
Understanding the Basics of Multivitamin Supplements
Multivitamins usually contain essential vitamins and minerals in one supplement. Every formula is created differently, with a different combination of nutrients. They come in a variety of formats, including liquids, powders, gummies, pills, capsules, and chewable.
Some formulations also contain other nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, amino acids, and herbs in addition to vitamins and minerals. There’s no specific guideline or standard formula for what a multivitamin supplement must contain.
Each individual manufacturer chooses its own ratio of nutrients and which ones to include. That’s why it’s so important to do your research before making a decision about which multivitamin to purchase.
The Three Most Common Types of Multivitamins
Although there are many different types of multivitamins on the market, these three are the most common.
Once Daily Vitamins
Once-daily formulations are basic multivitamins that are meant to be taken once each day. They usually contain the basic minerals and vitamins required for health in the recommended daily amounts, or DRIs (Daily Recommended Intake). Once-daily vitamins are often created in formulations that are meant to meet specific nutritional needs, such as prenatal, children’s, senior, men’s, or women’s specific formulas.
Megadose multivitamin formulas generally contain higher amounts of nutrients than the DRIs. They also include other nutrients like herbs. These formulas are usually targeted to meet the increased nutritional requirements of certain health conditions, to boost immunity, or increase energy levels.
Specialized Multivitamin Formulas
Specialized vitamin formulas are similar to megadose formulas, but they’re more targeted to specific health goals or health conditions. These formulas generally include additional ingredients such as herbs, probiotics, and more.
Deciding which type of multivitamin you should take all comes down to your personal needs. While a basic once-daily vitamin can help to fill in some of the nutritional gaps in your diet, megadose or specialized vitamins can do more to help you meet specific health goals, such as increased energy, a stronger immune system, or relieve the symptoms of certain health issues.
No matter which type of multivitamin formula you choose, big-name industry experts at SmartyPants Vitamins recommend choosing organic vitamin formulas that are free of additives and other contaminants.
Common Nutrients Found in Multivitamins and What They Do
Although every brand is formulated differently, they will generally contain some combination of 14 vitamins and minerals. Here’s an overview of each one and how they affect the body.
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A supports the immune system and the health of your bones, skin, and eyes.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C is well known for its ability to boost the immune system, but it’s also an important antioxidant that protects against premature aging. It also improves the absorption of iron into the bloodstream.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones. It also strengthens the immune system and reduces inflammation.
- Pantothenic Acid: This vitamin is needed to convert food into cellular energy and making red blood cells.
- Vitamin E: Vitamin E protects the cells against inflammation and promotes heart health.
- Riboflavin: Riboflavin is essential for proper cell growth, development, and function. It helps the body metabolize drugs, fats, and other substances. It also increases energy production.
- Thiamin: Thiamin is necessary for converting food into energy for the cells and it also supports cellular function and growth.
- Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 helps the body metabolize proteins and convert food into energy for the cells.
- Niacin: Niacin helps the body convert food into energy for the cells and supports the synthesis of cholesterol and fatty acids.
- Vitamin B12: This vitamin boosts energy production. It’s also essential for the formation of red blood cells and a healthy brain.
- Folic Acid: Folic acid is especially important for women of childbearing age because it may prevent birth defects. It also supports the body’s ability to metabolize amino acids.
- Zinc: Zinc is a mineral that promotes the healing of wounds and boosts the immune system.
- Iron: Iron is necessary for transporting oxygen throughout the body and creating new red blood cells. It also supports metabolism.
- Calcium: Calcium is necessary for strong bones and muscles.
Reading the Label on Your Multivitamins
The labels on multivitamins contain a variety of abbreviations based on Dietary Reference Intakes, or DRIs. These values are based on what a healthy person needs for each specific nutrient on a daily basis. Here are the three most common values you’ll see and what they mean.
- RDA: RDA stands for Recommended Daily Allowance. This indicates the average amount of daily intake a healthy person needs of that specific nutrient to meet their nutritional needs.
- AI: Adequate Intake is a value that’s used for a nutrient that doesn’t have enough scientific evidence to designate a specific RDA. The AI listed is set at a level that is assumed to be adequate for nutritional needs.
- UL: UL indicates the Tolerable Upper Intake Level of the nutrient without causing adverse side effects.
The %Daily Value, or DV, listed on your multivitamin label is based on these three values. In simplest terms, it tells how much of each nutrient a serving of that particular multivitamin will contribute to your nutritional needs for the day.
Where to Buy Multivitamins
You can find multivitamins almost anywhere, even drug stores and grocery stores. However, you will usually find higher quality vitamins at health food stores and through independent supplement companies online. High-quality multivitamins are available over-the-counter, but doctors may also prescribe specific formulations at certain stages of life.
Why You Need to Take a Multivitamin Every Day
No matter how good your diet is, it’s very difficult to meet optimal nutrition levels each day through diet alone. Being chronically deficient in certain nutrients can take a major toll on your health. For example, the effects of prolonged calcium deficiency include osteoporosis and an increased risk of bone fractures as you age.
Potassium deficiency increases your risk of kidney stones and high blood pressure. Vitamin D deficiencies lead to inflammatory problems and a weakened immune system. And, finally, low iron intake causes anemia which can affect brain function, immune function, and more.
Other common nutrient deficiencies include magnesium, Vitamins A, C, and E, and choline. Taking a multivitamin everyday addresses these possible deficiencies. Although a multivitamin cannot make up for eating a poor diet, it can help to prevent deficiencies that could lead to serious health problems. It’s a simple step that can have a major impact on your health.
Incorporating Vitamins into Your Daily Routine
One of the first things you’ll notice when you begin comparing labels on multivitamins is that each manufacturer has their own recommendations for when to take them. There really isn’t one specific time that’s better than another, so you should do some experimenting to find what works best for you.
Some people do best when they take them with a meal to avoid an upset stomach. Others believe taking them on an empty stomach improves absorption. You could also split up the dose and take half in the morning and half in the evening.
You should keep in mind that certain nutrients, especially B vitamins, boost energy levels. That means they could keep you awake if you take them right before bed. Some vitamins can interact with or decrease the effectiveness of certain medications. Always consult with your doctor before you start taking them if you take medication.
The Differences Between Multivitamins for Men, Women, and Kids
Although all humans need the same nutrients for optimal health, some vitamins and minerals are required in different amounts for men, women, and kids. Men require more zinc, magnesium, choline, and vitamin K than women do. Additionally, women’s nutritional requirements fluctuate at certain stages of life, such as during pregnancy and after menopause.
On the other hand, kids are more susceptible to negative side effects from mega doses of certain nutrients because of their small size. For these reasons, it’s best to choose a multivitamin that’s formulated for your age and gender.
As you can see, there are a lot of good reasons to take a multivitamin. There are literally hundreds of them to choose from, so it’s important to do your research and choose one that’s geared toward your individual needs. Don’t hesitate to consult with your doctor or with the manufacturer if you have questions or concerns.