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ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Do You Need a Multivitamin If You Eat a Balanced Diet?

Do You Need a Multivitamin If You Eat a Balanced Diet?

Reading Time: 5 minutes 42 seconds


DATE: 2021-09-20

More than three in four adult Americans (77%) take at least one dietary supplement. A multivitamin is the most popular at 58%. The second most consumed supplement is vitamin D at 31%, or almost half.

In this article, we explore what a multivitamin is. We also dive into what research says about the potential health benefits. If you're wondering whether you need a multivitamin if you eat a healthy diet, we'll answer that as well. (The answer may surprise you!)

If you do take a multivitamin, we provide a few tips to help you pick the best one for you. There are also some people who need to be careful with a multi, so we'll go into that as well.

What is a Multivitamin Supplement?

A multivitamin is a supplement that contains many different vitamins and minerals. Though, not all multis are the same.

The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) explains that there is no multivitamin standard. In other words, different products can contain different nutrients. There is also no regulation of the amount of nutrients a multivitamin contains. So, some contain different micronutrients than others. They may also include differing amounts.

That said, many multis contain at least some of the 13 essential vitamins. These are:

  • Vitamin A

  • Vitamin C

  • Vitamin D (usually listed as vitamin D3)

  • Vitamin E

  • Vitamin K

  • All of the B vitamins - thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, B6, B12, and folate

Multivitamins also typically include a few different minerals. Some of the most common are calcium, zinc, magnesium, selenium, and potassium.

Multivitamin and Disease

One of the reasons people take a multivitamin is to reduce their risk of chronic disease. Though, research in this regard is somewhat mixed.

For example, a 2016 study followed 18,530 male physicians for roughly 12 years. Each one was 40-years-old or older. Those who took a multivitamin for at least 20 years had fewer cardiovascular events.

A 2018 review found different results. This one looked at a total of 18 studies on multivitamin use and heart disease. It concluded that taking a multivitamin did not reduce a person's risk of cardiovascular disease. It also didn't reduce the risk of death due to coronary heart disease.

The difference may be because the 2016 study tracked long-term multivitamin usage. The second study did not. Remember also that multis contain different nutrients in differing amounts. This could complicate the issue further. It's also possible that other healthy habits are at play too.

Similarly, some studies have found a link between multivitamins and reduced cancer risk. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force disagrees. It says that there isn't enough evidence to make this connection. Instead, individual nutrients are more effective for this purpose. This includes beta carotene and vitamin E.

If we cannot say that a multivitamin can help prevent disease, why take it? One potential reason is to correct a nutritional deficiency.

When a Multivitamin May Be Recommended

A multivitamin may be beneficial for people with nutrient gaps. Maybe your diet is low in vitamin D and vitamin C. Certain medical conditions can also lead to poor nutrient absorption. In cases such as this, taking a multi could help meet these nutritional needs.

A poor diet can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiency. So too can eliminating entire food groups or not eating a wide variety of foods. A blood test can determine if a specific nutrient is lacking. If it is, a multivitamin or individual supplement may be recommended.

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Do You Need a Multivitamin If You Eat a Balanced Diet?, Vitamin

Do You Need a Multivitamin If You Eat a Balanced Diet?

What if you don't have a nutrient deficiency and eat healthy food? Should you supplement your healthy eating plan with a multivitamin? Many of the nation's top health agencies say that there is no need. Here are a few of their statements:

Again, it is important to rule out a vitamin deficiency. This is especially true if there are concerns that your diet doesn't support optimal health. Your doctor can help you decide whether you'd benefit from taking a multivitamin. Making changes to your diet can also correct some deficiencies.

When a Multivitamin Might Not Be Advised

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) reports that multivitamins are typically safe. However, a dietary supplement can interact with other medications. Talk with your doctor to learn whether a multivitamin is safe for you.

The NCCIH adds that supplement safety hasn't been tested in certain populations. This includes women who are pregnant and nursing, as well as children. These individuals should consult with their doctor before starting a new vitamin.

Sometimes doctors recommend a different type of vitamin. For instance, a prenatal vitamin can help an expecting mother meet her nutrient needs. Some health experts suggest taking a prenatal vitamin before even getting pregnant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shares that the folic acid in these vitamins can help prevent birth defects. This is because folic acid supports the growth of a healthy brain and spine.

Multivitamin vs Individual Vitamins

The main benefit of taking a multivitamin is that it is easy to take. And many people prefer taking one product versus taking several. This is cheaper too.

Plus, some nutrients help your body absorb and use other nutrients. One example is how vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium. Calcium contributes to greater bone strength. Thus, a multivitamin that contains both improves calcium bioavailability.

If you have a deficiency, your doctor may recommend a multi and an individual vitamin. This ensures that you get enough of a specific key nutrient.

Selecting the Best Vitamin Supplement

Go down the vitamin aisle and you will see that many multivitamin options exist. The ODS recommends choosing one created for your age and sex. A female should select a women's multivitamin developed for her needs and a male should find a men's vitamin for his.

It's also important that the vitamin and nutrient intake not exceed the recommended dosage levels. This ensures that you meet your nutrient needs without risking toxicity. You can tell quickly by looking at the "% DV" column (DV stands for daily value). If all values are 100% or lower, this is a good multivitamin.

Some people have to be more careful about the nutrients in the multivitamin they take. According to the ODS, smokers should avoid high amounts of beta-carotene and vitamin A. These two nutrients can increase their lung cancer risk.

Adult males and postmenopausal women should not take a multivitamin containing the recommended DV of iron. That is, unless their doctor suggests it. On a side note, if you do take an iron supplement, keep it where kids under the age of six can't reach it. The ODS reports that this supplement in particular is one of the top poisonings for this demographic.

Tips for Taking a Daily Multivitamin

If a multivitamin is recommended, it's important to follow the directions on the bottle. This ensures that you're taking the right dosage. Any deviations should be only at the direction of your doctor.

Taking it with food can keep the multi from aggravating your stomach. A meal with fatty acids helps your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins. These include vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Also, aim to take the multivitamin at the same time every day. At breakfast or with dinner are both good times. That helps make this a habit. It also spaces your nutrient consumption in even intervals.

If you take other individual vitamins, you may want to take your multivitamin at a different time. This prevents the nutrients in the multi from reducing the absorption of the other vitamin or mineral.

Studies have found similar absorption rates between a gummy vitamin and a pill. So, if you struggle with swallowing a pill, a gummy multivitamin may be a good alternative.

Learn more about nutrition and supplementation with ISSA's Nutritionist Specialization. This course also shares how to make positive diet changes for a healthier lifestyle.

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By becoming an ISSA Nutritionist, you'll learn the foundations of how food fuels the body, plus step by step methods for implementing a healthy eating plan into clients' lifestyles.

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