You've probably heard the expression 'you are what you eat'. Good health is dependent on us eating a varied and balanced diet but all too often busy lifestyles get in the way. Besides, because every vitamin and mineral that we consume plays a unique role in helping to keep us healthy, knowing which to take and how much of each can get very complicated. Multivitamins take out the guesswork and can help us meet out nutritional needs.
Where do I find multivitamins?
- There are numerous different makes and varieties of multivitamin supplements. Formulations of multivitamins may vary so you'll need to read the label to see exactly what you're getting. Most multivitamins will contain B complex vitamins, vitamins A, C, D, E and K and often a range of minerals such as calcium, zinc and iron.
- In the US a supplement is defined as a 'multivitamin' if it contains three or more vitamins and minerals.
- Many multivitamins are labelled to suit different groups - such as people with active lifestyles or women over 50.
- It's important to store supplements away from heat as this can destroy potency.
Why do I need multivitamins?
Lots of studies have compared the effectiveness of multivitamins but the results have been mixed. Some studies show multivitamins to be effective in helping to prevent chronic diseases whereas other have failed to replicate these findings.
But one study worth mentioning is a large-scale trial* that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2012 which suggests taking daily multivitamins may be protective against cancer. The study, which only looked at men over 50 (so may only be relevant to this group) showed an 8% reduction in the risk of developing cancer over a 11.2 year period in the men taking the daily multivitamin as compared to those taking a placebo.
As the word 'supplement' suggests though, multivitamins and other supplements are designed to support rather than replace healthy eating.
How will I know if I am lacking in multivitamins?
The signs that you are lacking in key vitamins can range from fatigue to weak nails or poor circulation. The symptoms will really depend on the vitamins and minerals that are in short supply.
It's probably worth examining your diet and lifestyle to see where you might be deficient. If you are able to pinpoint the problem you may decide that specific supplements will do the trick. For example, if you have dark skin but limited exposure to sunlight a vitamin D supplement might help. If you are a vegan you may want to supplement your diet with more vitamin B12.
However, if you feel you require an all round boost then multivitamins may fit the bill.
Can multivitamins ever be harmful?
Some vitamins can interact with other medication so it's important to discuss any supplements with your doctor if you are also taking prescribed treatments. In particular you should mentioned your multivitamin use if you are taking hormone replacement therapy or using a blood thinner such as aspirin or warfarin.
Some multivitamins will turn your urine bright yellow.
Reputable multivitamin products will only contain safe levels of each vitamin but it's worth remembering that while some vitamins can be tolerated in large amounts, others, such as vitamin A are toxic in high quantities. For this reason, it is important to ensure you are not exceeding the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for each group by taking more than the stated dose.