What does a multivitamin do for your body?
If you walk into any health store or supermarket, you’ll find an entire aisle dedicated to supplements. You’ll find everything from herbs in capsules to megadoses of particular vitamins.
Often, the best way to ensure you are getting enough of all of the dozens of vitamins and minerals is taking a multivitamin. But, are they really necessary?
Are you considering taking a multivitamin? Are you unsure whether it will actually promote good health? Here we will give you a rundown on multivitamins, what they are, and whether there are any benefits to taking them.
We will also highlight some of the vitamins and minerals you should keep an eye for in any multivitamin formulation.
What is a Multivitamin?
Multivitamins contain several of the vitamins and minerals that are essential for health. In some cases, they may also contain other beneficial compounds like chlorophyll, which has antioxidant properties, or rutin, which is a flavonoid that has anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic properties (1, 2).
Multivitamins contain anywhere between 5% and several thousand % Daily Value of different vitamins and minerals. They can be found in the form of liquid, pill, or gel capsules.
Since people have different nutrient needs depending on things like their biological makeup, age, and health conditions, there are often multivitamins that are designed for different populations. They are not meant to cure illnesses or diseases, but they may help to fill any gaps in minerals and vitamins that aren’t being filled by your diet to help prevent any nutrient deficiencies that could lead to mild to serious health complications.
Key Vitamins and Minerals to Look Out For
Here are some vitamins and minerals that you should look out for in your multivitamin.
Vitamin E (100%)
Vitamin E is an antioxidant vitamin that helps protect the cells from damaging effects of free radicals (3). It is also important for a healthy immune system, gene expression, and communication between cells.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)
Vitamin B1 is essential for the growth, development, and function of all of the cells in our body, and it is also important for a healthy metabolism (4). Vitamin B1 is not stored for very long in the liver, so it is important to have a continuous supply through supplements or through what we eat.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Vitamin B2 is an essential component of enzymes that metabolize fats, medicine, and others (5, 6). Like Vitamin B1, it is only stored in small quantities and for short periods of time in the liver, so we need to make sure to get enough vitamin B1 continuously through our diet.
Vitamin B6 (pyroxidine, pyridoxal, or pyridoxamine)
Vitamin B6 is involved in over 100 enzyme reactions, including those that are related to metabolizing protein and those that form hemoglobin (7, 8).
Vitamin B12 (cobalamins)
Vitamin B12 is necessary for the formation of red blood cells, healthy brain function, and for synthesizing DNA (9). Deficiencies can result in severe, and possibly irreversible, neuropathy (10). Since vitamin B12 is found almost exclusively in animal sources, vegans may be vulnerable to vitamin B12 deficiency if they are not taking a vitamin supplement or fortified foods (11).
Folic Acid (vitamin B9)
Folic acid, known as folate when consumed in food, is essential to building DNA and RNA and to protein metabolism (12). Folate deficiency can lead to megaloblastic anemia, and in deficiency in pregnant women could result in neural tube defects in their babies (13).
Vitamin D is important for calcium absorption and bone mineralization (14). For this reason, it is important that older people consume enough vitamin D to help prevent osteoporosis (ibid). It is also important for cell growth and healthy immune system, brain, and muscular function (15).
Multivitamins: An “Insurance Policy” For Your Health
Ultimately, it is really difficult to know whether you are deficient in vitamins and minerals. The only sure way to determine deficiencies is if you visit your doctor often. Notable symptoms of deficiencies arise only when you have been deficient for quite some time. In some cases, the negative effects are irreversible (16).
Remember that multivitamins aren’t meant to turn you into superman or superwoman. Multivitamins help maintain your health and ensure that your body is getting the vitamins and minerals it needs to be working as it should. They help prevent problems before they become significant. You will likely only feel a difference in your health if you were, in fact, deficient in one of the vitamins or minerals.
Who Could Benefit from Taking a Multivitamin?
While multivitamins are good “insurance policies” for the general population, there are some groups of people who could particularly benefit from taking a multivitamin designed for people like them. These populations include:
- Women who are planning to or might become pregnant and their male partners
- Women who are lactating
- Women who have gone through menopause
- Elderly people
- People with a weakened immune system
- People with a diagnosed vitamin or mineral deficiency
- People who don’t eat a balanced diet
- Vegans and vegetarians
- Professional athletes
Note that a multivitamin is not a replacement for a balanced diet. However, if you are or someone you are caring for doesn’t eat enough of certain food groups, multivitamins could help them fill any nutrient needs while they transition to eating a in a more complete manner.