Taking a multivitamin or mineral supplement is a daily routine for more than half of all American adults.
Eating a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains should provide the vitamins your body needs. However, it's not always possible to eat healthy meals. If that's the case, taking supplements might help.
Multivitamins are designed to fill nutritional gaps. There are different brands and formulations, and each will list the percent daily value (DV) or recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of the nutrients in one serving.
A label that lists 100% DV of vitamin D means the formula provides 100% of the vitamin D you need each day. This is based on a 2,000-calorie diet, so if you eat more or less, you'll need to make some adjustments.
The following populations should discuss taking a multivitamin with their doctor:
Calcium and vitamin D supplements can help strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis.
Age 50 and Over
Vitamin B12 helps form red blood cells, supports brain and nerve function and makes DNA. The body doesn't absorb all the B12 it needs from food, so a supplement might be necessary, especially if you're over the age of 50.
Adults Taking Specific Medications
Certain prescriptions can deplete the body of important minerals like magnesium, calcium, and potassium. Others prevent your body from absorbing some nutrients. Ask your doctor if you need extra supplements.
People With Malabsorption Conditions
Diseases that prevent your body from digesting food increases the chance of malabsorption. These include:
- Celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, and cystic fibrosis
- Gastric bypass surgery
- Illnesses that cause diarrhea or vomiting
- Alcoholism or alcohol abuse
Adults not in these groups should consider taking a regular multivitamin. Vitamins are necessary for many of your bodily functions. Taking a multivitamin can offer the following health benefits:
Maintains Organ and Vision Health
Look for a supplement containing mixed carotenoids and beta-carotene — those are the raw materials your body converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for vision, immune function, and communication between your cells. It also plays an important role in maintaining the health of your heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs.
Healthy Growth of Fetuses
Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects during the first months of pregnancy and is essential for women of child-bearing age. The recommended RDA is 400 micrograms or 100% DV. Check your pantry, as some cereals and products contain folic acid.
Support Skin Health
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that fights free radical damage and helps the body make collagen, which heals wounds and keeps your skin smooth and healthy. A multivitamin with 250mg will meet DV/RDA requirements for most people.
Promote Bone and Muscle Function
Vitamin D helps your muscles function properly and allows your body to absorb calcium from food to keep your bones healthy. Check with your doctor if you don't spend much time outdoors in the sunlight, have dark skin, or are overweight, as you may need to take additional supplements.
Immune System Support
Vitamin E and vitamin D support your immune system and protect your cells from damage that can lead to diseases.
For most people, there isn’t much risk associated with taking multivitamins. However, you should speak to your doctor before you take one. Combining a multivitamin with other vitamin supplements, vitamin sources, or medication can cause serious health complications.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't regulate multivitamins. Look for brands with the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) on the label to ensure you're getting a high-quality formula.
Check the iron levels in your multivitamin. In men and postmenopausal women, this mineral can accumulate in the body and cause organ damage. Look for an iron-free preparation and eat iron-rich foods like chicken, small amounts of red meat, dark leafy greens, and fortified-grains instead.
Liver or Bone Damage
Avoid multivitamins with high levels of retinol, listed as acetate or palmitate on the label. Retinols can be harmful to your bones and liver.
Consuming more than 1,200 mg per day of vitamin D can increase the risk of developing kidney stones.
Amounts and Dosage
Multivitamins vary widely, based on the brand or formulation. Each bottle or box will have a detailed label that lists all the vitamins and minerals in each supplement.
Most brands create a multivitamin that is tailored to the DV for men, women, children, and pregnant women. You should find a multivitamin that meets the DV recommended for your demographic. For example, Centrum’s multivitamin for women contains 100% of the DV of iron while their multivitamin for men only has 44%.
One serving size is one or two tablets daily. Read the label carefully to avoid taking too much or too little of the daily recommended amount.
There aren't any hard and fast rules for the best time of day to take a multivitamin. Some people choose to take it in the morning, while others wait until lunch or even dinner. If you have a sensitive stomach, you should consider taking your multivitamins with a meal to avoid nausea or cramping.