What should I look for in a multivitamin?

What should I look for in a multivitamin?

Question:
Elizabeth Ricanati, M.D.
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Elizabeth Ricanati, M.D.

Elizabeth Ricanati, M.D., is the founding medical director of Lifestyle 180, an innovative Cleveland Clinic program aimed at treating and... Read more

I think it's important to point out first what you shouldn't look for in a multivitamin—namely, don't expect it to substitute for a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. The way these various foods work together simply can't be replicated in a pill, even a multi. Consequently, the best way to get the vitamins and minerals you need—from calcium and vitamin D to iron and C—is from good ol' fashioned food. Food, after all, is medicine—and a healthy, well-balanced diet is one of the best ways to protect yourself from chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis.

None of us, however, gets every single nutrient from our diet each day, which is why supplementing makes sense. But taking a multivitamin might not be the way to go. Increasingly, research is showing insufficient evidence for multivitamins in general, due to randomized studies suggesting they may not offer any protective effect. Instead, the focus has shifted to the benefits of taking specific vitamins and minerals, which may offer a more direct benefit. Your physician can help guide you on which type of supplement (multi or individuals) suits you best, taking into account your diet, age, gender, current health and health history.

If you still opt for a multi, choose one that contains vitamins and minerals, including calcium (carbonate or citrate), vitamin D (preferably D3, though you may need to supplement with additional D since levels found in multivitamins don't meet current recommendations) and folic acid. Calcium supports bone and tooth health (among other things), vitamin D is essential to overall immunity, and folic acid regulates things including metabolism, mood and, for a pregnant woman, is critical for optimal fetal development. Young menstruating women may also need a multivitamin with iron.

If you're vegetarian or vegan and don't eat any meat, or you avoid dairy, your diet may be lacking in a range of vitamins and minerals, in which case a multi containing vitamins B12 and D, iron, magnesium, selenium and calcium makes sense.

Vitamin and mineral supplements aren't regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. So in terms of safety and effectiveness of particular brands, it's wise to check with your physician before taking any supplements. For more on supplements, go to 360-5.com.

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