According to conventional medical research, there’s no evidence to support the indiscriminate use of multi-vitamins – and I tend to agree. That being said, there are situations in which a multi might be useful.
A multi-vitamin is a supplement composed of various vitamins and minerals, usually taken in pill form. The first consideration is the specific needs of the patient, followed by the quality of the supplement, and finally the form that the vitamins or minerals in the multi-vitamin take.
When a patient asks me about multi-vitamins, I first determine whether they have any special health concerns or are just trying to boost their overall well-being. The best way to get vitamins and minerals is through your diet; fruits and vegetables are nature’s perfect multi. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1.7 million annual deaths worldwide can be attributed to low fruit and vegetable consumption.
The current recommendation is five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit per day but because of issues resulting from over-farming, I consider this to be the bare minimum. Over-farming leeches nutrients from the soil; any crops grown in that soil are also low in vitamins and minerals.
The reality is that some kids (and adults) don’t like fruits and vegetables. In these cases I may recommend a multi-vitamin; it’s like extra insurance for your health. A multi may also help protect against the harmful effects of pollution due to their antioxidant content; the only drawback is that levels are usually quite low. For this reason I usually recommend a specific antioxidant formula – one with high levels of vitamins A, C, E, and selenium.
Once you determine the need for a multi, select a high-quality supplement manufactured by a reputable company; some brands don’t actually contain the substances they say they do. Lower-quality products are usually cheaper, so the levels of vitamins and minerals can be too low to have a significant effect on your health.
Finally, the specific form of the vitamin or mineral is also important. Low-quality formulations often use forms that are cheap and not as effectively absorbed. For example, avoid calcium carbonate supplements because they require lots of stomach acid to break down. A better alternative is calcium citrate, which is easier to absorb.
I don’t often recommend multi-vitamins. I prescribe treatments according to individual needs and select specific vitamins and minerals in appropriate dosages. However, if you or your kids don’t get enough fruits or vegetables, you may benefit from a good-quality multi.
Photo: Bradley Stemke (flickr)