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Why Take a Multivitamin? continued...

Experts may not agree about the effects of daily multivitamins. But, in bridging nutrient gaps, it’s reasonable to assume that multivitamins not only support general health, but may help head off chronic conditions or other health risks. For example, a woman could take a supplement containing folic acid to help avoid some birth defects, or a supplement with calcium and vitamin D to lower her risk of osteoporosis.

The risk of dietary deficiencies is greater than the risk of overdosing on a multivitamin. "Most American diets are missing nutrients and taking a once daily multivitamin will not cause harm, and has the potential to improve a nutrient-poor diet," Ansel says.

What to Look for in a Multivitamin

  • Read the label carefully. Product labels identify which nutrients are included and the amounts contained within each serving.
  • Get the basic vitamins and minerals. Most multivitamin preparations usually include the following vitamins and minerals: vitamin C, B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6, folic acid (B9), B12, B5 (pantothenic acid), biotin, A, E, D2 or D3 (cholecalciferol), K, potassium, iodine, selenium, borate, zinc, calcium, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, betacarotene, and iron.
  • Check the percentages. In general, choose a supplement that provides 100% of the Daily Value (DV) for most of the vitamins and minerals in that supplement. Some nutrients, like calcium and magnesium, are rarely included at 100% because the pill would be too large to swallow.
  • Look for the extras. Modern multivitamins are available in a wide variety of formulas that are aimed at helping people with specific nutritional needs or conditions. Some of the more popular ones come with or without iron, or as high-potency formulas that contain at least two-thirds of the nutrients called for by recommended dietary allowances. Other multivitamins can contain additional select nutrients like antioxidants, or formulations that are specialized to specific conditions, like prenatal vitamins.
  • Formulas for men, women, and age groups. Choose a multivitamin designed for your age and sex so that the nutrients included will be right for you.
  • Don't overdo it. Avoid multivitamins that exceed 100% of daily recommended values, because supplements are in addition to the nutrients in food, and some, in large doses, can build up and become toxic.