I’m sure you’ve seen the headlines. “Multivitamins Shown to be Useless.” “Multivitamins Demonstrate No Health Benefit.” Perhaps you’ve had a friend tell you that multivitamins only serve to give you “expensive urine”, as you’ll just pee out the vitamins you take in supplemental form. Well, there is some truth in that! But like anything else, those statements require a bit of context.
Medical research studies have suggested that simply taking a daily multivitamin will not prevent heart disease. It also will not prevent cancer, most likely, nor dementia. And the vast majority of multivitamins on the market are cheap, poorly absorbed, and do get excreted from the body without every playing any role in metabolic processes.
So why is it that I recommend a multivitamin to a large number of my patients, both athletes and non-athletes alike? Most healthy, active individuals are not expecting that a multivitamin alone will make them immune to heart disease, cancer, or an early death. While those may be the endpoints of the research studies, they are rarely the expectations of reasonable individuals. Most people are instead looking for a way to insure adequate intake of vitamins and miners to give them the best shot at nutritionally supporting their lifestyle, such that they approach each day with vitality and a sense of wellbeing.
My patients range from professional athletes to high-performing executives to recreational “weekend warriors” like myself. For these patients, we check regular blood tests to assess levels of certain vitamins and minerals. Most people have at least a few insufficiencies. This is not to say that they are clinically deficient (though we find that as well!), but instead, we see that their levels of given nutrients are not where the scientific literature would suggest they need to be in order to support optimal function. A simple and effective way to address this for many people is a multivitamin.
As I mentioned though, most multivitamins are pretty much trash. Companies use cheap formulations of vitamins and minerals so that they can simply sell product. These products are at best inert, at worst they are contaminated and dangerous. You might imagine, I am very picky about what I recommend to my patients.
Now, to be clear, the only prudent and effective nutritional strategy starts with and focuses on real food. Unprocessed, whole foods, with copious amounts of vegetables and reasonable amounts of fruit. Macronutrient intake that matches your energy expenditure, your physiology, and your metabolic goals. These are the cornerstones of nutrition! But when discussing dietary supplements in addition to such a diet, a multivitamin can play an important role.
Without exception, my “Go To” brand for multivitamins is Thorne. Their quality is second to none, and they submit themselves to incredible scrutiny by maintaining certifications from organizations like NSF and Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (similar to our FDA, but they have complete oversight and jurisdiction for supplements as well, which our FDA lacks). They test every product for hundreds of contaminants and banned substances, and they aim to use the most bioavailable sources of ingredients. They produce high-quality supplements which are admittedly not cheap! But they are trusted by institutions like the Mayo Clinic and many of the US Olympic Programs.
Thorne makes two multivitamin products which I tend to recommend. The first is their Multi-Vitamin Elite (NSF Certified for Sport). This product provides both a morning and nighttime dose, each formulated specifically for what is needed during that part of the day. The ingredients are easily absorbed by most people, and they opt for the formulations that are most needed, rather than choosing the cheaper but less bioavailable options. Most minerals are chelated to amino acids to ensure better absorption. Folate and B12 are provided in their methylated forms. It’s just well thought out and well executed.
While the Elite version is my preference for highly active people, it can be overkill for some. The Elite requires 3 capsules in the morning and 3 at night. Some people prefer less or simply can’t remember to take it twice daily. When looking at blood testing, we also see that some people just require less. They have fewer holes in their diet, perhaps. For these patients, I tend to recommend Thorne’s Basic Nutrients 2/day (NSF Certified for Sport).
Sometimes it makes sense to have both products in your arsenal. Now, I’m not suggesting you take them both simultaneously! I find that when I travel, it can be difficult to remember to take morning and night dosages. I also find that space in my suitcase can be at a premium! Because of this, I normally take the Elite when at home but travel with the Basic Nutrients.
Multivitamins can be thought of as a nutritional safety net, to some degree. This safety net is more likely needed by hard-charging individuals, as the demands of their daily lives sometimes outstrip their nutritional support. My preference is to recommend supplements based on laboratory testing which demonstrates necessity, but in the absence of that, a multivitamin is a reasonable option for the vast majority of people. In some circumstances, people with specific diagnoses or medication regimens should avoid certain supplements. As always, you truly should check with your physician before taking any dietary supplement! I’d suggest you also find a physician who is knowledgable in nutrition and physiology, and who understands the demands of your life, as well as your recreational pursuits.
Some of my favorite aspects of Multivitamin Elite:
The NSF Certified for Sport designation!
AM and PM formulas specific to patients’ needs at those times of the day.
Vitamin D - a reasonable daily dose of 2500 IU, concentrated in the AM dose.
High-quality B vitamin preparation - B6 as P5P, methylated Folate and B12.
Magnesium in the chelated bisglycinate form, concentrated in the evening dose to aid with sleep and recovery.
No fillers or binders.
Inclusion of an absorbable curcumin extract to manage inflammation.