Benefits of a Multivitamin
Written by: Ryah Nabielski, MS, RDN
Multivitamins are the most popular type of supplement; 32% of U.S. adults report taking a multivitamin regularly. Walk down the supplement aisle and you’ll find many options with various ingredients and price points.
Multivitamins can help you meet your daily nutrient needs, improve nutrition status, and have many health benefits. Yet periodically, you’ll see headlines that say there are no benefits to taking a multivitamin – why is that?
Today’s article will dig deeper into multivitamins and explore their benefits, the research, and why not all supplement options are created equal. Keep reading to learn more about:
- What is a multivitamin?
- Health benefits of multivitamins
- Possible downsides to multivitamin use, especially low-quality options
- How to choose a high-quality multivitamin to fit your needs
Let’s jump right in!
What is a Multivitamin?
Most multivitamins contain both vitamins and minerals, such as:
- Fat-soluble vitamins: vitamin A (and beta-carotene), vitamin E, vitamin D, vitamin K
- Water-soluble vitamins: vitamin C, B vitamin complex (folate, biotin, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and B12)
- Minerals: zinc, selenium, iodine, calcium, iron, magnesium, chromium, manganese, copper, etc.
Multivitamins tend to supply around 100% of the recommended daily value (RDA) for most nutrients. However, you might find more water-soluble B vitamins or less of some larger nutrients that take up a lot of space in capsules (like calcium).
Multivitamins can also be tailored to different populations:
- Prenatal multivitamins or women’s multivitamins are designed for women in their reproductive years. Formulas are typically higher in folate, contain iron, and may have additional herbs or phytonutrients that support women’s health.
- Men’s multivitamin formulas are typically iron-free and may contain additional herbs or phytonutrients specific to men’s health.
- Women’s multivitamins (over 45/50) formulas are designed for women in perimenopause or post-menopause. They typically don’t contain iron or more folate like other women’s multivitamins.
- Children’s multivitamins contain appropriate nutrient dosages for kids to support growth and development. They’re often available as chewable gummies, tablets, or liquid.
Multivitamin brands vary significantly regarding the nutrients they contain, nutrient forms, dosages, added ingredients, quality, price, and more.
A large study (the COSMOS study) published results in 2022, concluding that multivitamins didn’t significantly reduce cardiovascular disease or cancer. The study generated headlines stating that multivitamins show no benefit. However, this study was relatively short, used a low-quality multivitamin, and reported more evidence is needed.
Are we expecting multivitamins to prevent chronic disease anyway? That might be a lot to ask, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t health benefits.
Here are some potential benefits of using a quality multivitamin:
- Improved micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) status. Likely, the primary reason to use a multivitamin is to increase nutrient levels. Research suggests those who regularly take multivitamins have a decreased risk for nutrient deficiencies. Multivitamins help fill nutrient gaps in the diet, which may be particularly beneficial for children, the elderly, post-bariatric surgery, low-income populations, and those with a micronutrient-poor or limited diet.
- Brain support. A multivitamin contains many nutrients, such as B vitamins, which are important for brain health. Several studies evaluate multivitamin users and brain functions, suggesting consistent use of a multivitamin improves memory, cognition, and executive function and slows cognitive decline. These studies focus on older adults.
- Immune support. Multivitamins contain essential immune nutrients like vitamins C and zinc. One study found multivitamin use improved vitamin C and zinc status in older adults in 12 weeks, which may benefit immune function.
- Fertility and pregnancy support. It’s well-established that a prenatal multivitamin containing folate used before and during pregnancy helps prevent neural tube defects and congenital disabilities. Other essential prenatal nutrients, including vitamin B12, choline, vitamin K, and vitamin A, improve female and male fertility, pregnancy outcomes, and infant health.
- Physical performance. Athletes and physically active people require micronutrients for mitochondrial function (turning calories into energy), muscle growth, exercise recovery, joint health, and more. A multivitamin helps meet daily requirements, especially when there are gaps in the diet or increased nutrient needs.
- Longevity. Various nutrients support health and longevity by reducing oxidative stress and chronic inflammation while optimizing metabolic function. One study found multivitamin use associated with longer telomere length (5% longer) in women. Telomeres are the end caps of DNA, and longer telomeres correlate with lower biological age and longer lifespan.
Potential Risks from Multivitamins
Despite all the benefits of multivitamins, there may be some risks, especially from low-quality supplements. Many companies cut corners in manufacturing. They may use cheaper forms of nutrients (that are less bioavailable) and smaller amounts. They may skip some crucial nutrients in their multivitamin formulas.
Additionally, there is an overall lack of supplement regulation to ensure supplement ingredients match label claims. A 2020 independent report from Consumer Lab found quality problems in 44% of multivitamin samples, including products containing lower or higher levels of an ingredient compared to the label. Too much of certain supplemental nutrients can be problematic for health.
Contamination is also an issue with supplements, with some products containing toxins like microplastics, lead, and other concerning impurities.
How to Choose a Quality Multivitamin
Some multivitamins are much better than others, and it’s worth investing in supplements that check all the boxes. Choosing a high-quality, complete multivitamin from a reputable, transparent company is important. Here’s what to look for:
- Active nutrients. You want vitamins and minerals in their most active, absorbable, and bioavailable forms. The form of folate in a multivitamin is a good marker. You want to avoid synthetic folic acid and look for a multivitamin with methylfolate (as l-methylfolate or L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate) as the active form. If a product uses methylfolate, chances are the other nutrients will also be in the preferred, active forms.
- Correct dosages. Nutrients take up space, and some more than others. A multivitamin that is only one pill per day won’t be complete. You likely need at least four capsules to meet the optimal dosages of most nutrients in a multivitamin formula.
- Third-party testing. Choose supplements from companies that test their products’ quality and purity with a third-party, independent lab. Since the FDA isn’t regulating supplements this way, choose companies who self-regulate and are transparent about their process and testing results.
- Clean ingredients. Choose multivitamins without allergens (like gluten), GMOs (genetically modified organisms), added sugar, artificial flavors, and unnecessary additives and fillers.
- Personalized formula. One multivitamin isn’t going to work for everyone. Choose a formula tailored to your stage of life, gender, and personal needs.
Twenty2 Nutrition offers two unique multivitamin formulas: men’s and women’s. The Twenty2 Nutrition Prenatal Women’s Multivitamin is designed for women during their reproductive years and doubles as a prenatal vitamin, safe (and incredibly beneficial) to take before, during, and after pregnancy. It contains essential vitamins and minerals, including more active folate (as L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate), to support fertility and pregnancy. It also contains ginger and digestive enzymes to improve digestion and tolerance.
The Twenty2 Nutrition Men’s Multivitamin contains the same base nutrients as the women’s multivitamin, with dosages for men’s needs. The formula is iron-free. It also contains added apoptogenic herbs (ashwagandha, maca, Panax ginseng), antioxidants (lutein, zeaxanthin, astaxanthin), and bioactive compounds to support men’s fertility and overall health.
Even people with the healthiest of diets have difficulty meeting all their nutrient needs daily, especially because of modern stress, environmental exposures, and high levels of exercise, which deplete micronutrients in the body. Additionally, the food supply is less nutrient-rich than just a couple of generations ago.
Taking supplements isn’t a shortcut to make up for poor lifestyle habits. However, supplements can enhance a healthy lifestyle and help you meet your nutrient needs. Including a multivitamin in your daily routine is an easy addition that will benefit most people, but the quality is key.
Choose a high-quality, complete multivitamin from a company with integrity offering a high level of transparency, like Twenty2 Nutrition.
This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider before changing your diet or beginning a new supplement, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, take medication, or have a medical condition.
Ryah Nabielski, MS, RDN is a Registered Dietitian, functional nutritionist, writer, and recipe creator. Ryah helps clients use a natural, food-as-medicine approach to improve fertility, pregnancy, hormone balance, autoimmunity, and discover a healthy relationship with food and body. Learn more about Ryah and her private practice at econutrition.co.