This Thursday I attended a webinar put on by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). They are one of my favorite resources for evidence-based nutrition information that is geared for consumers. They really help to cut through the hype, evaluate the science and come up with some common sense, practical action steps for the public.
I have subscribed to their Nutrition Action Healthletter for years and I LOVE IT! I always tell my nutrition interns to get it, and I recommend it for doctors offices and waiting rooms. They don’t even pay me for this! (Although I probably wouldn’t mind a referral bonus, haha!).
When they promoted the webinar, I signed up right away. This is a question I get asked often, and wanted to make sure I was up to date on the current research. I’ve boiled down what I learned into a few key take home points for you. Also at the end of my article is a link for you to watch the recording, if you want.
The webinar featured CSPI’s Senior Scientist, David Schardt, and Senior Nutrition Scientist, Caitlin Dow.
Should I Take A Multivitamin?
First of all, multivitamins and supplements are NOT a substitute for a healthy lifestyle, nor are they a substitute for health insurance. Our bodies prefer nutrients in food form, not pill form! Anyone considering taking a multivitamin should consider it a “supplement” to the diet, not a replacement!
David pointed out that current science does not show risk to taking multivitamins. There are a few studies that show some potential benefit, so it’s really a personal choice whether you want to take one or not.
Bottom line: Multivitamins seem to be safe, based on good data, as long as the nutrient amounts aren’t super high.
What Should A Multivitamin Have In It?
The bottom line on this is that your multivitamin should have most of the essential vitamins and minerals. CSPI has a guide for what to look for when buying multivitamins. Interestingly, they compared their list of “must haves” to what many of the gummies offer and found that the gummy versions are often lacking!
For those who really don’t like swallowing a pill, David did say that Centrum chewable was pretty close when it came to the list. However, you will pay more for the chewable version than the pill.
A good multivitamin will have the nutrients recommended by the National Academy of Sciences at the levels recommended.
Unless your medical doctor has suggested it, there is no reason to take levels of nutrients that exceed the daily recommended amounts!
Is Absoprtion A Problem With Synthetic Nutrients?
I’m sure you’ve all seen the advertisements on TV where someone will put a pill in water and claim that it doesn’t get absorbed and then they go on to show you how their product dissolves in water and is superior because of that. First off…. I want to remind you that your stomach is not made of water. It’s made of really strong stomach acid. After your food leaves your stomach, it then goes through a very complex digestive process.
It is completely ridiculous to compare our digestive systems to a glass of water!!
Consumerlabs.com actually did testing for dissolving and absorbing of multivitamins and found that all but one dissolved properly and in a way that would be perfectly well absorbed by the human body. In fact, even the dollar store brand showed good absorption! Most multivitamin companies use synthetic vitamins, which is perfectly fine.
David also noted that there is no research that an organic mvi is any better than a synthetic mvi. However, if it makes you feel better to buy the organic version, make sure it has the USDA organic marking on it.
For more on organic foods, check out my posts here.
What Should A Multivitamin Cost?
Another red flag when buying multivitamins is the cost. If a multivitamin is costing you more than $5 a month, it’s probably not worth it. Centrum costs about $2 a month for their daily supply.
I have people ask me all the time if the brand they are being sold by a sales person (sometimes a friend or neighbor or family member) is good for them. Usually the first question I ask is “how much does it cost?” I’ve had people tell me $40 a month or even more! NOPE! Spend that money on walking shoes, or some exercise bands or some fruits and vegetables!
If you want a multivitamin, you should be able to find it for a reasonable price at your grocery or drug store. Large companies have a lot to lose if they don’t make a good product so choosing a well known larger brand is a good idea. Oftentimes people shop at Sam’s or Costco and I tell them to get the store brand there.
Do Multivitamins Expire?
David stated that no one is testing prducts after they expire. We do know that synthetic nutrients are fairly stable. Likely the biggest risk after expiration is that it probably has lower levels of nutrients. The best idea is to not buy it after expiration and try to use them up before the date!
Should I Take Nutrients in Individual Pills Instead of a Multivitamin?
David pointed out that usually when you get a supplement of an individual nutrient, it will be a very high level, which is only recommended when you have low levels as measured by a blood test that your doctor administers.
It’s better to get the lower amounts that are found in multivitamins, and then you don’t have to take 17 different pills!
ALWAYS REMEMBER that supplements are very loosely regulated by the FDA. As a consumer, you MUST BE SKEPTICAL, read the labels and know what you are getting.
I have had clients complain of neuropathy that they thought was a result of their chemo. They went to a neurologist who evaluated everything they were taking and found that they were taking really high levels of vitamin B6. They stopped taking it and the neuropathy went away.
Too much of a good thing is not necessarily good! It’s very unlikely you will get too much of any nutrients from food, so you always want to make sure you’re meeting your nutrient needs with diet as much as possible!
Want to watch the webinar yourself? ACCESS THE RECORDING HERE
Hope this is helpful! Let me know if you have questions!
Alax N says
Thank you for sharing! This is a question I get very often with my patients receiving chemoradiation as well. Thanks for the resources and providing that recording!
Julie Lanford MPH, RD, CSO, LDN says
Glad it was helpful! Good point, I didn’t even say anything about the chemo and cancer treatment issue. I figure most oncology professionals (including myself) would be ok w people taking a regular multi, but not something that has over than 100% of things. And of course, anti-oxidant supplements and other high dose supplements are a no-no especially during treatment. 🙂 Julie
Paul Davies says
I am 70 years old and I find that in the past, I caught a cold every year till I started taking a multi and now I get a cold maybe once every 5 years.