The supplement and nutrition industry can be overwhelming for newcomers. We have access to so endless types of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and chemical compounds, and choosing the right product can be extremely challenging. But what if we told you that a single tablet could help you reach your goals simply, safely and effectively?
Multivitamins are supplements that contain various nutrients formulated to meet the daily requirements of vitamins and minerals requird for you to maintain optimal health. In our shopping guide, we'll teach you all you need to know regarding these supplements. You'll also learn to choose the product that best suits your needs.
- 1 Weekly newsletter with the best personal finance tips
- 2 Key Facts
- 3 Our Selection: The Best Multivitamin Supplements
- 4 Shopping Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Multivitamin Supplements
- 4.1 What, exactly, are multivitamins?
- 4.2 Which vitamins are found in multivitamin supplements?
- 4.3 What are the consequences of a vitamin deficiency?
- 4.4 What other compounds are found in multivitamin supplements?
- 4.5 Which groups are at high risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies?
- 4.6 How can I maintain optimal levels of vitamins and minerals from my diet?
- 4.7 What are the benefits of multivitamin supplements?
- 4.8 What types of multivitamin supplements are available?
- 4.9 How should I take my multivitamin supplements?
- 4.10 What precautions should I take when using these supplements?
- 4.11 Can my multivitamins cause pharmacological interactions?
- 5 Shopping Criteria
- 6 Summary
- Multivitamins are nutritional supplements that contain different vitamins, minerals, and other substances that contribute to keeping your body in good health.
- They are not considered medicines, and their quality control can therefore sometimes be more lenient. This is why some products are not effective.
- High-quality multivitamins can help keep you healthy and decrease the likelihood of certain diseases.
Our Selection: The Best Multivitamin Supplements
You will need to evaluate a series of important factors when you're shopping for a multivitamin supplement. These include the quality of the ingredients, the effectiveness of the nutrient combination and the product's value for the price paid. Using these factors, we've selected the very best supplements available.
Shopping Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Multivitamin Supplements
Multivitamins are supplements that offer a combination of vitamins, and sometimes other substances, such as amino acids or nutritional minerals. These very popular products allow you to address different nutritional deficiencies with one pill or tablet. This helps simplify your use of supplements without scarificing quality.
What, exactly, are multivitamins?
These products are particularly helpful in dealing with deficiencies caused by malnutrition, a stressful life or any other factor that produces an overall nutritional imbalance in the body. Certain multivitamins are also designed for more specific conditions, such as pregnancy and elderly persons.
In Canada, multivitamins are considered supplements as opposed to medicines. This means that these supplements are subject to much more permissive regulations than medical products. Unfortunately, this leads to some products appearing on the market that have minimal or no effect on your health.
Which vitamins are found in multivitamin supplements?
Not all multivitamin supplements are equal. In various multivitamin products, you will find an infinite number of nutrient combinations that create very different products. A person's age, gender, level of health and the amount activity they get all play a role in determining our specific nutritional needs. All of these factors need to be considered as a whole when you to choose one or another multivitamin supplement.
However, certain vitamins are considered base components in multivitamin products. In the following table, we've summed up the main molecules that are found in most multivitamin supplementss, as well as the main functions of each:
|A||Maintenance of normal vision, of immunity and of skin integrity, cellular antioxidant|
|B1||Metabolism of carbohydrates and maintenance of a healthy nervous system|
|B2 (riboflavin)||Transformation of nutrients into energy, maintenance of normal vision and of skin integrity, and elimination of toxic compounds (de-tox function)|
|B3||Energy metabolism, DNA repair, elimination of toxic compounds and hormonal production|
|B5 (pantothenic acid)||Metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates and maintenance of skin and capillary integrity (under investigation)|
|B6||DNA repair, cell growth and preservation and maintenance of immunity|
|B7 (biotin)||Metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, energy production, cell growth and control of blood sugar levels|
|B9 (folic acid)||DNA repair, cell growth and preservation, and maintenance of a healthy nervous system|
|B12||DNA repair, cell growth and preservation, maintenance of a healthy nervous system, and red blood cell synthesis|
|C||Antioxidant function, increased nutrient absorption, collagen production and maintenance of the immune system|
|D||Calcium absorption, bone repair and growth, maintenance of the immune system and preservation of cardiovascular health|
|E||Powerful cellular antioxidant, maintenance of the nervous system|
|K||Anti-hemorrhagic function (coagulation), bone repair and growth, maintenance of the immune system and preservation of cardiovascular health|
Most multivitamin supplements contain a combination of these vitamins mentioned above. We encourage you to choose products that provide you with greater quantities of the nutrients you cannot obtain through your diet. Vegan and vegetarian individuals, for instance, will benefit from multivitamins that have high levels of vitamin B12.
What are the consequences of a vitamin deficiency?
- Vitamin A deficiency can cause night vision problems. If prolonged, this deficiency will also affect your body's immunity abilities, as well as your body's ability to regenerate cells.
- Deficiencies in Vitamins B1, B2, B2, B5 and B6. This deficiency can hinder your body's absorption and use of certain nutrients, and ultimately can impact your energy production.
- Folic acid (B9) deficiency. A deficiency of Folic acid can lead to anemia, mouth ulcers and premature graying. The frequency of fetal malformations can increase in pregnant women who do not get enough folic acid.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency. It is particularly important for strict vegans and vegetarians to make sure they consume enough Vitamin B12. A B12 deficiency can cause anemia, neurological symptoms (such as numbness of the limbs, memory loss and mood swings) and digestive issues (mainly loss of appetite and constipation).
- Vitamin C deficiency will provoke fatigue and hinder the immune system's functioning. Severe deficiencies could lead to scurvy, a very rare condition that manifests itself through heavy bleeding, gum ulcers and psychiatric disorders.
- Vitamin D deficiency. Not enough Vitamin C will affect your body's calcium absorption and its incorporation into the bones, increasing the risk of fractures and osteoporosis. This deficiency can also harm your cardiovascular health, leading to hypertension and other cardiac disorders.
- Vitamin E deficiency can lead to premature aging. Severe deficits of Vitamin E can also damage the nervous system and affect your cognitive capacites, impairing memory and learning abilities.
- A decrease in vitamin K levels. Also known as "Potassium," not enough Vitamin K will affect your body's blood coagulation and healing abilities, leading to heavy bleeding and wounds that cannot heal properly.
It is important to understand the main symptoms associated with hypovitaminosis – a deficit of one or more vitamins. This will help you identify and solve any imbalance you might have which could harm your health. Remember that stress and unhealthy lifestyle habits – such as drugs, poor diet and sedentary lifestyle – will aggravate these symptoms as well.
What other compounds are found in multivitamin supplements?
- Calcium: While this mineral is best known for its importance to our teeth and bones, it is also essential for other vital processes such as blood coagulation and muscle contraction. Calcium deficiency will lead to general weakness and will affect the health of your bones. This will in turn increase the risk of fractures, rickets and osteoporosis.
- Iron: This element is needed to transport gases (especially oxygen) into the blood and muscles. Lack of iron causes the iron deficiency known as anemia, this is a common problem in particular with women of childbearing age.
- Phosphorus: Phosphorus is involved in the creation of bones and teeth. In addition, it plays a role in the energy synthesis and the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. A phosphorus deficiency will affect your bone health and can cause general weakness.
- Magnesium: This mineral is vital to the creation of new muscle tissue. It also regulates the levels of other minerals. Excessively low levels of magnesium will cause fatigue, weakness and mood swings.
- Manganese: Often confused with magnesium, this mineral is essential for hormonal synthesis and for the absorption and activation of other antioxidant compounds, such as Vitamin C. A deficiency of this mineral can cause problems at all levels of the body (hair and nail loss, weak bones and growth issues).
- Selenium: This antioxidant mineral contributes to the prevention of premature aging. This compound may also increase fertility in men by increasing sperm production.
- Copper: This mineral regulates the proper absorption of iron, which means that a deficiency in copper may also be an indirect cause of anemia. It is also essential in the production of energy, helping to keep fatigue at bay.
Some supplements may also contain other substances in addition to vitamins and minerals. Plant extracts and some chemical compounds are very common. Ginseng, for instance, provides energy, vitality and strengthens our defenses. Coenzyme Q10 is a chemical naturally present in the human body and is responsible for 95% of our energy production.
These substances may also include healthy fatty acids – such as the well-known Omega-3 acids that keep the brain and heart healthy – as well as other helpful ingredients. For example, phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid that forms part of our cell membranes and has proven to be an effective protector of our mental and intellectual functions.
Which groups are at high risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies?
Individuals with increased nutritional needs
- Growth processes: Children and teenagers have increased nutritional demands for their hormonal, bone and brain growth and maturation. If their diet is not adequate during these periods, they may face severe deficiencies that will require medical attention.
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding: Fetal development and feeding of a newborn are particularly stressful on a mother's body, which measn she will need greater nutritional intake of many substances to conduct both processes successfully. Doctors and midwives often recommend using multivitamin supplements designed for mothers during this period.
- Wound healing and convalescence: Sports injuries, accidental fractures, burns and any other type of physically traumatic event will cause tissue destruction which must be replaced by the nutrients found in the body. Naturally, our mineral and vitamin needs increase during these times.
- Demanding training programs: Strenuous training stimulates muscle growth and repair. If you are working out to increase your muscle mass, you will need to have a higher nutrient intake to support anabolic (growth) processes.
- Demanding lifestyle: Stress causes the release of dozens of hormones and chemicals into the bloodstream. They help cope with the different demands of daily life. We need high amounts of vitamins and minerals to produce these chemical compounds, which increases the risk of suffering from deficiency.
Individuals with intake deficits
- Elderly: The bodies of older people are less efficient at absorbing nutrients through their diet. Sense of smell and taste may also be affected, therefore reducing appetite. They have a greater risk of fractures and diseases, which means that this group is also more likely to suffer from deficiencies.
- Weight loss diets: Diets that aim to decrease body mass can be very restrictive. Monotonous or poor nutrition plans won't provide enough nutrients, increasing the risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
- Vegans and vegetarians: Plant-based diets aren't necessarily unbalanced. However, some essential nutrients like vitamin B12 are only found in foods of animal origin. This is why vegan and vegetarian individuals face higher chances of suffering from certain vitamin deficiencies.
- Absorption disorders: People with impaired bowel function (such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, or after bariatric surgery) may have difficulties properly absorbing nutrients from their diet. These people will also have a higher risk of suffering from various types of nutritional imbalances.
These deficiencies may become particularly serious if an individual belongs to more than one of the groups mentioned above. During pregnancy, a vegan woman will need to closely monitor her nutritional status with the help of a healthcare professional. Her risk of suffering from vitamin or mineral deficiencies will be especially high.
How can I maintain optimal levels of vitamins and minerals from my diet?
|Vitamin A||Fatty cheeses, sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, papaya, mangos||700-900 micrograms|
|B vitamins (except B9 and B12)||Green leafy vegetables, eggs, dairy products, legumes, whole grains||B1: 0.8-1 milligram B2: 1-1.3 milligram B3: 13-16 milligrams B5: 5-7 milligrams B6: 1.2-1.4 milligram B7: 30 micrograms|
|Vitamin B9 (folic acid)||Green leafy vegetables, citrus, legumes, whole grains||0.4-0.8 milligrams|
|Vitamin B12||Clams, sardines, tuna, veal, fortified cereals||2.4 micrograms|
|Vitamin C||Plums, citrus, tomato, chilli pepper, capsicum, parsley||90 milligrams|
|Vitamin D||Salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, oysters, shrimp, egg yolk, fortified dairy products||600 International Units|
|Vitamin E||Nuts, sunflower seeds, avocados, salmon, mangos, kiwi, fish||15 milligrams|
|Vitamin K||Kale, chard, raw spinach, Brussels sprouts, chicken, veal, pork, dairy products||120 micrograms|
|Calcium||Dairy products, chia seeds, canned fish, legumes||1-1.2 gram|
|Copper||Oysters, spirulina, mushrooms, nuts, lobster, green leafy vegetables||0.9 milligram|
|Phosphorus||Meat, shellfish, dairy products, sunflower seeds, nuts, legumes, whole grains||0.7-1 gram|
|Iron||Shellfish, spinach, legumes, red meat, quinoa, pumpkin seeds||18 milligrams|
|Magnesium||Cocoa, avocados, nuts, legumes, tofu, whole grains||400 milligrams|
|Manganese||Leafy green vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, dairy products||0.3-5 milligrams|
|Selenium||Nuts, fish, ham, chicken, turkey, fresh cheese, eggs, oats, dairy products, bananas||55-60 micrograms|
In addition to a healthy diet, certain nutrients also require certain lifestyle habits in order to be properly absorbed or processed. This is the case, for example, of Vitamin D. Exposure to sunlight allows us to synthesise this vitamin much better than through food.
Unfortunately, many factors can make it difficult to obtain all needed nutrients through our diet. These include our age, potential diseases and some physiological conditions (such as pregnancy), as well as certain dietary styles and tastes. This is the case for people following vegan, vegetarian, paleo or keto diets.
What are the benefits of multivitamin supplements?
These supplements will not be as effective as traditional drugs, and you should never replace your medication with multivitamins. However, their consumption may indeed contribute to your health. Based on scientific research, we've summed up the main benefits of using multivitamin supplements:
- Apetite control and weight loss: One study revealed that people following weight loss diets who took multivitamin supplements felt less hungry and lost more weight than those who dieted without supplements.
- Protection of memory: Experts in aging believe that taking antioxidant-rich supplements may contribute to maintaining one's memory over the years.
- Cellular protection: Some studies claim that the cells of people who use supplements remained in better condition, as they contain less oxidised and damaged DNA than that of individuals who do not use multivitamins.
- Decreased frequency of cardiovascular disease: It has been demonstrated that individuals taking supplements had a reduced likelihood of dying from cardiovascular problems. Note that we do not yet know the exact reason for this advantage.
- Healthier children: Studies show that women who take multivitamins before and during pregnancy give birth to healthier children. In the Canada, some obstetricians recommend prenatal vitamins to all pregnant women.
- Healthier eyes: Several studies have concluded that using nutritional supplements could reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration, a vision disorder that progressively affects the vision of older people and can eventually lead to blindness.
Consumer surveys also reveal that supplement intake is linked with a general sense of well-being and increased energy levels. Participants used multivitamins successfully to cope with the stress and anxiety of everyday life.
What types of multivitamin supplements are available?
Below, you will find a table to help you get started in the world of supplements. It will be useful for when you are preparing to choose the multivitamin you need. Keep in mind that you may want to go without certain nutrients and add others, depending on your individual requirements.
|Population group||Desired effect||Multivitamin (combination)|
|Vegans and vegetarians||Prevention of vitamin B12 and D deficiencies, as well as calcium, zinc, iron and omega-3 deficiencies||Vitamin B12 + Vitamin D + omega-3 + iron + zinc|
|Women of childbearing age||Prevention of anemia due to menstrual losses, increased energy and sense of well-being||Folic acid + Vitamin C + Vitamin E + iron|
|Older women (postmenopausal)||Prevention of premature aging, coping with fatigue and preserving memory, vision and muscle capacity||Omega-3 + B vitamins + Vitamin D + Vitamin K + Vitamin E|
|Young men||Increased energy, increased sense of well-being, prevention of premature aging, increased fertility and sexual potency||B vitamins + Vitamin C + zinc + selenium|
|Older men||Prevention of premature ageing, coping with fatigue and preservation of memory, vision and muscle capacity||Omega-3 + B vitamins + Vitamin D + Vitamin K + Vitamin E + selenium|
|Students||Reduction of fatigue, coping with stress, preservation of memory and cognitive skills||B vitamins + Vitamin D + Vitamin C + zinc + magnesium + phosphatidylserine|
|People under stress||Reduction of fatigue, stress and anxiety, and promotion of healthy sleep habits||B vitamins + Vitamin C + Vitamin D + magnesium|
|Athletes||Increased energy levels, prevention of injuries, promotion of muscle gain, endurance and of the consequences of oxidative stress||B vitamins + Vitamin E + Vitamin C + magnesium|
|People seeking to lose weight||Appetite control, healthy weight loss and prevention of the "rebound effect"||B vitamins + Vitamin D + Vitamin C + omega-3 + iron + magnesium|
You can also find multivitamins specifically tailored to pregnant and breastfeeding women, the elderly as well as children and teenagers. In those cases, you are advised to discuss the details of supplementation with a health specialist.
How should I take my multivitamin supplements?
- When should I take my multivitamin? Nutrients that have energising properties should be taken first thing in the morning. These include Vitamin C, B vitamins (except B3) and Vitamin D. On the contrary, Vitamin B3 and magnesium have soothing effects and should be taken at night.
- How should I take them? Water-soluble vitamins (group B and C) will dissolve in water and are efficiently absorbed both with and without food. However, fat-soluble vitamins (A, E and K) need fats to be absorbed, and should therefore be taken with food.
- Which dose is most appropriate? According to experts, you should opt for a supplement that gives you 100% of the recommended daily allowance for each nutrient. Products with lower RDA may be ineffective, while exceeding the recommended dose could lead to dangerous vitamin and mineral overdoses.
You may also want to follow more specific recommendations depending on your individual habits. You can, for instance, take your multivitamin with orange juice if you're looking to improve your iron absorption. Don't forget that coffee decreases the absorption of most nutrients. In that regard, drink it one or two hours apart from your supplement.
What precautions should I take when using these supplements?
Choose a suitable formula
- Avoid combining calcium and iron: These two minerals interact with each other, making it more difficult to absorb them. Avoid multivitamins that include both molecules. If you take iron supplements, do not take them with dairy products or calcium-rich foods.
- Choose active forms of nutrients: You can check the composition label of the supplement to see if it contains active forms of vitamins. This means that your multivitamin will be effective immediately once taken, and your body won't have to metabolise it through chemical processes that can degrade the nutrients ingested.
- Remember that Vitamin E is a complex of substances: This potent antioxidant vitamin consists of a group of molecules called tocopherols. If you want to take advantage of its protective properties, your supplement should include all types of tocopherols (alpha, beta, delta, and gamma).
Do not exceed the recommended dose.
- The dangers of calcium: Excessive supplementation with a calcium-rich multivitamin can lead to constipation, altered heart rhythm, and can increase the likelihood of kidney stones. It will also accumulate on the artery walls, increasing the risk of cardiovascular problems in the long run.
- You don't always need iron: While iron is very popular in many supplements, it has a high oxidising capacity and shouldn't be overused. Otherwise, it may accelerate aging and damage your body's overall health. Only take it if needed – if your doctor recommends it to you, for example.
- The correct amount of folic acid: Excess folic acid can cause other nutritional deficiencies (such as Vitamin B12) to go unnoticed for a long time, becoming chronic and irreversibly affecting health.
- The debate regarding Vitamin D: Since vitamin D increases calcium absorption, some experts believe that excessive consumption could lead to the calcification of blood vessels, therefore damaging main arteries. Do not exceed the vitamin D RDA, and try to combine it with Vitamin K. The latter combats arterial calcium deposition.
- Beware if you're pregnant: Pregnant women (or women looking to become pregnant) should check with their healthcare provider before using supplements. The Vitamin A found in many of these multivitamins may cause fetal abnormalities. Women should take specially designed prenatal vitamins at this time in their lives.
Can my multivitamins cause pharmacological interactions?
|Nutrient||Drugs with which it interacts|
|Vitamin A||Retinoids, antibiotics and anticoagulants|
|B vitamins||Antihypertensives and chemotherapy|
|Vitamin C||Aluminium-containing antacids (Almax®), estrogens (contraceptives), antipsychotics, chemotherapy, anti-HIV treatment, cholesterol treatments and anticoagulants|
|Vitamin D||Treatment for renal failure, antiepileptic drugs, cholesterol treatments, psoriasis treatment, antibiotics, Digoxin, antihypertensive treatment, diuretics, corticoids and laxatives|
|Vitamin E||Cyclosporine, chemotherapy, statins and analgesics|
|Vitamin K||Anticoagulants and antidiabetic drugs|
|Minerals||Activated charcoal, levodopa, antibiotics, antacids, hypolipemics (anti-cholesterol medication), levothyroxine (Eutirox®), and bisphosphonates|
Remember that these are just some of the interactions that could occur while supplementing with multivitamins. Even if your medication was not mentioned above, you should immediately discontinue use and see a doctor if you notice changes in the effects of your drugs after starting your supplementation.
The main difficulty with finding the best multivitamin for you is that the market offers many products whose quality is questionable. In the following section, we've detailed some key factors that you should consider if you want to make the right decision and thus be satisfied with your supplement purchases:
- Allergies and Intolerances
- Gastrointestinal Discomfort
- Additional Compounds
- Dosage Form
- Sweeteners and Colouring Agents
- Value for money
Allergies and Intolerances
The ingredients found in multivitamins may come from various origins: plant, animal or mineral. If you suffer from any kind of intolerance, please check carefully the allergens present in the supplement before making your purchase. Fortunately, you will find many products that are free of gluten, lactose, nuts and soybeans.
On the other hand, you will want to stick to animal-free supplements if you are vegan or vegetarian. Multivitamins that feature a vegan quality seal on their packaging guarantee that they are made entirely from 100% plant-based elements.
You can safely use multivitamins if you follow the general recommendations that we have explained throughout this article. However, note that some individuals experience gastrointestinal discomfort when they add these products into their regular diet.
This discomfort – flatulence, abdominal pain or swelling – does not mean that you are suffering from any serious problem. You can easily avoid these symptoms by taking your multivitamin with food. If you are prone to gastrointestinal discomfort, opt for a supplement specifically formulated for people with delicate stomachs, and avoid those containing iron.
You may find a variety of additional ingredients in your multivitamin supplements. Most will be enzymes – to generate chemical reactions – or plant extracts. If you see an unknown compound in your product, do a quick search on the ingredient to ensure its effectiveness and safety. Here are some compounds commonly found in multivitamins:
- Ginseng: This medicinal plant is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine. It is thought to hold multiple healing and energising properties.
- Gingko biloba: Also called maidenhair tree, this Chinese tree promotes blood circulation and improves blood coagulation.
- Guarana: This shrub from the Amazon has stimulating properties similar to those of caffeine.
- Chamomile: This plant is traditionally used as a treatment for stomach upset, flatulence and restlessness.
- Valerian: This medicinal plant has sedative and relaxing properties.
- Coenzyme Q-10: This enzyme is responsible for the creation of energy in the human body.
- Omega-3: This fatty acid is fundamental for cardiovascular and cerebral health.
- Phosphatidylserine: Forming part of cell membranes, this compound may promote neural function.
- L-theanine: This green tea extract has anxiolytic and antioxidant properties.
- Caffeine: This compound is a known stimulant and activates our metabolism.
Most multivitamin supplements are sold in tablet or capsule form. That way, you only need to take a single dose per day to take advantage of its benefits. However, you also have access to some products in powder or liquid form. Note that the effectiveness won't be affected, so you can choose the form that best suits you.
Sweeteners and Colouring Agents
We recommend that you select supplements that are free of artificial colours and sweeteners. While their purpose is generally to provide a better taste and smell to the product, they may cause intestinal discomfort and even somevery unpleasant allergies. If you can, stick to multivitamins with 100% natural organic ingredients.
Value for money
You will generally supplement with multivitamins over a period of one to three months. We encourage you to choose a product that contains enough tablets, powder or liquid for thirty days or more. If you want to save money, you can also look for a sale and stock up; these supplements can take years to expire.
Multivitamins are a safe option if you're just starting out using supplements. Their balanced formulation is tailored to combat the most frequent nutritional deficiencies present in our society. Your well-being is at your fingertips, and one tablet a day is all you need to complement your diet!
Remember that daily exercise and a healthy diet are your best allies to remaining in good health for longer. You may also want to avoid smoking, alcohol and other drugs. However, quality supplements can contribute to maintaining the balance you need to enjoy a full and active life, even in the most difficult of times.
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(Source of featured image: Supitcha McAdam: 76666448/ 123rf.com)