How to Choose the Best Multivitamin for You


Multivitamin supplements have taken a beating in the press over the last decade.

There are good reasons for this, too.

Many are stuffed with all kinds of vitamins and minerals, regardless of whether we need to supplement with them, and dosages are often too low to provide any benefits or so high they become harmful.

Thankfully, not all multivitamins are the same.

Some contain clinically effective doses of key nutrients, smaller amounts of those most people don’t need to supplement with, and other ingredients you can’t get from food that confer a long list of additional health benefits.

In this article, you’ll learn how to spot a good multivitamin (and what to avoid), my picks for the best multivitamin for men and women, and more.

 

What Is a Multivitamin?

A multivitamin is a dietary supplement containing various vitamins, minerals, and other ingredients designed to help you maintain an adequate intake of micronutrients.

There’s no standard definition of what constitutes a multivitamin, which means the content of each multivitamin supplement varies depending on the manufacturer.

Most multivitamins are sold as multivitamin tablets, multivitamin pills, or multivitamin capsules, though you can also buy multivitamin powder, which you mix with water and drink. In every case, you usually take at least one serving per day


Multivitamin: Benefits

According to a 2005 study conducted by scientists at Colorado State University, at least half of the US population doesn’t get enough vitamin B6, vitamin A, magnesium, calcium, and zinc, and 33% of the population doesn’t get enough folate. 

A 2017 study conducted by scientists at Tufts University and published found that over 30% of the US population was deficient in calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, D, and E. 

Other research shows that average vitamin K and D intake levels may be suboptimal, too, which is detrimental because these vitamins play an important role in bone growth and repair, blood vessel and immune function, cancer prevention, joint health, and more.

Thus, the main benefits of taking a multivitamin are:

  1. They can plug nutritional “holes” in your diet, which are common even among people who eat well.
  2. They can boost your intake of vitamins and minerals that improve health and wellness at higher doses, like B vitamins, zinc, and chromium.
  3. They can provide beneficial ingredients that are difficult or impossible to obtain from food, like grape-seed extract, ashwagandha, and alpha-lipoic acid.

The Problem with Most Multivitamin Supplements

It’s hard to know a good multivitamin from a bad one. 

Many contain large amounts of vitamins and minerals most people don’t need to supplement with, such as manganese, molybdenum, and the B vitamins (apart from niacin), as well as potentially harmful “megadoses” of others like retinol (vitamin A) and vitamin E. 

Cheap and less effective forms of ingredients are common too (to save money), and sometimes needlessly expensive ones are used only because they make for better marketing.

For example, people often assume that the natural forms of vitamins found in food are always better than synthetic forms. Some supplement sellers and authorities even claim that synthetic vitamins are outright harmful.

In truth, not all natural vitamins are better than artificial ones, and not all synthetics are bad. Certain natural forms have unique and desirable properties, such as vitamin E, and several synthetic vitamins outperform natural ones, such as folic acid, which is absorbed better than natural folate.

Another strike against multivitamins is the popularity of products that claim to provide 100% of everything you need in just one daily pill, often referred to as “complete multivitamins.” 

The only way to get to one pill daily is by using too little of some key nutrients and none of others. Thus, most good multivitamins require taking at least a few pills per day because that allows for optimal dosing and absorption.

How to Choose a Multivitamin

Here are some tips to help you find a good multivitamin:

  1. Stay away from one-a-day products. A high-quality multivitamin will require taking at least 2 or 3 pills per day.
  2. Stay away from multivitamin tablets because they’re not absorbed as well as multivitamin pills.
  3. Stay away from products that contain exactly 100% of Reference Daily Intake (RDI) of many vitamins and minerals. This is a sign the formulators didn’t understand or consider actual dietary patterns and nutritional needs because proper dosing often ranges from a fraction of RDI in some cases to a multiple of it in others.
  4. Stay away from products that contain retinol. You should never take this form of vitamin A orally because of the potential for liver damage at higher doses. Instead, look for products containing carotenoids (pigments found in plants), which the body converts into retinol as needed and otherwise uses as antioxidants or eliminates.
  5. The inclusion of 5-MTHF is a green flag. This is short for 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, and it’s the “active” (usable by the body) form of folic acid (vitamin B9). When we eat foods with folate, our body converts it into 5-MTHF, which your body then uses for various physiological processes.

Research shows that many people have a genetic mutation that hinders the production of 5-MTHF. This can lead to a deficiency despite substantial folate or folic acid intake through healthy eating and supplementation. By supplementing with 5-MTHF directly, those with and without the genetic mutation can maintain sufficiency without any downsides.

Many multivitamin formulators don’t know this, though, and opt for folate or folic acid instead. What’s more, many who understand the significance of 5-MTHF don’t or can’t use it because it’s expensive. 

Thus, when a multivitamin contains 5-MTHF, it suggests the formulators were better informed and willing to spend more than their competitors.

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Multivitamin: Side Effects

The amount of each ingredient in multivitamin supplements varies by product, which means side effects can vary, too.

That said, side effects to well-dosed multivitamins are generally rare, though some people may experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, upset stomach, headache, and insomnia.

While megadoses of some vitamins and minerals (vitamin B1, vitamin B12, and biotin, for example) have no adverse effects on health, taking too much of other ingredients can have serious side effects. Here are some to look out for:

  • Vitamin A: Taking more than 3,000 mcg daily may cause headaches, blurred vision, nausea, dizziness, aching muscles, and coordination problems. In severe cases, you may also experience increased cerebral spinal fluid pressure, leading to drowsiness and, eventually, coma and death.
  • Vitamin D: Exceeding 100 mcg daily may cause vitamin D toxicity, resulting in nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, neuropsychiatric disturbances, pain, loss of appetite, dehydration, polyuria, excessive thirst, and kidney stones.
  • Vitamin E: Taking more than 1,000 mg daily for extended periods may interrupt blood coagulation and increase stroke risk.
  • Iodine: Doses exceeding 1,100 mcg daily may cause some of the same symptoms as iodine deficiency, including goiter (swelling of the neck resulting from an enlarged thyroid gland), elevated thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels, and hypothyroidism.
  • Magnesium: Supplementing with more than 350 mg daily may result in diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramping. Megadoses of 5,000 mg or more may cause more severe symptoms, including urine retention, ileus (a form of indigestion), difficulty breathing, extreme hypotension, irregular heartbeat, and cardiac arrest.
  • Selenium: Taking a daily dose of 400 mg or more may cause hair and nail loss or brittleness, nausea, diarrhea, skin rashes, mottled teeth, fatigue, irritability, and nervous system abnormalities. In the past, some supplements have contained more than 200 times the labeled amount of selenium, causing selenium toxicity, which is associated with severe symptoms, including acute respiratory distress syndrome, myocardial infarction, kidney failure, cardiac failure, and, in rare cases, death.
  • Zinc: Short-term use of supplements containing more than 40 mg daily can cause nausea, dizziness, headaches, gastric distress, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Longer-term use can interfere with copper absorption, reduce immune function, and lower HDL cholesterol levels.

Multivitamin supplements may also be contaminated with chemicals such as cadmium, lead, and mercury that may cause side effects. 

The best way to avoid supplements is to only buy products that a third-party lab has analyzed and verified as safe. This guarantees the supplement you’re using contains the labeled doses and no potentially harmful chemicals.

What Is the Best Multivitamin?

For a multivitamin to be effective, it must provide clinically effective doses of key nutrients, and smaller amounts of those most people don’t need to supplement with. It should also be in pill form, require at least two servings per day, and be lab tested by a third party to guarantee purity.

And if you want a multivitamin that does all that, here’s what I recommend . . .

The Best Multivitamin for Men 

My favorite multivitamin for men is Legion’s 100% natural men’s sport multivitamin, Triumph.

Triumph for men contains clinically effective doses of 21 essential vitamins and minerals and 10 scientifically proven ingredients to boost health. 

Three of these ingredients—nigella sativa, ashwagandha root extract, and pumpkin seed extract—are only included in the men’s version of Triumph because they’re particularly beneficial for men’s health. For instance, research shows they can improve testosterone levels, help restore male fertility, support prostate health, and more.

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The Best Multivitamin for Women

My favorite multivitamin for women is Legion’s 100% natural women’s sport multivitamin, Triumph.

Triumph for women contains clinically effective doses of 22 essential vitamins and minerals as well as 10 scientifically proven ingredients for better health, performance, and mood, and less stress, fatigue, and anxiety.

Triumph for women also contains three ingredients not found in the men’s version—maca, tribulus terrestris, and vitex agnus-castus—because research shows they’re particularly beneficial for women. For example, studies show that they improve sexual function, libido, and sexual health (even for women experiencing menopause), and alleviate or eliminate side effects of menstruation including cramping, breast tenderness, headaches, anxiety, and irritability, and more.

Triumph for women also contains iron, which many women struggle to get enough of.

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How and When to Take a Multivitamin

You should take multivitamins according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.

When possible, it’s also a good idea to take multivitamins with meals containing some dietary fat to enhance the absorption of some fat-soluble vitamins and minerals. 

Depending on the multivitamin you use, you may also have to split your dose into two servings (often one early in the day and another 3-to-6 hours later). Splitting doses helps with absorption, reducing the risk of excess vitamins not being absorbed.

FAQ #1: Should I take a multivitamin?

As I explain in my fitness books for men and women, Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger, you don’t need supplements to get fit and healthy.

However, taking a good multivitamin helps you optimize your health by boosting your intake of certain vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial ingredients that improve wellness.

FAQ #2: Do I need a multivitamin?

No, but taking a good multivitamin helps plug nutritional “holes” in your diet, boost your intake of certain vitamins and minerals that improve health and wellness, and can provide beneficial ingredients that are difficult or impossible to obtain from food.

FAQ #3: Is it good to take a multivitamin every day?

Yes (unless stated otherwise on the label).

Taking a multivitamin daily is the best way to ensure you get enough vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to optimize your health.

FAQ #4: Can you take a multivitamin at night?

Yes.

That said, your body absorbs some fat-soluble ingredients in multivitamins better when you take them with food. Thus, it’s probably best to take your multivitamin with your evening meal rather than immediately before bed.

FAQ #5: What is a “complete multivitamin?”

A complete multivitamin is a supplement that claims to provide 100% of every vitamin, mineral, and nutrient you need in a single daily pill.

While this sounds appealing, complete multivitamins rarely (if ever) deliver on their promise. That’s because the only way supplement companies can put everything you need into a single daily pill is if they use too little of some key nutrients and none of others.

And that’s why most good multivitamins require taking at least a few pills per day to allow for optimal dosing and absorption.

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