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Providence Health & Services
Swedish Health System | Seattle, WA
Kadlec Regional Medical Center | Richland, WA
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Dietitians and other health experts have debated the use of multivitamin supplements for decades, and the controversy continues.
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What’s in your multivitamin?

Since vitamins and supplements are not required to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration, it’s important to take a deep dive into the multivitamins that claim to take care all of your daily needs in a single pill. There are many brands out there, and while the particular company you choose is a matter of preference, it helps to fully understand the ingredients in the pill and whether it will be beneficial to you and your unique needs.

But be warned, multivitamins are not a replacement for actual food. According to Kathy Schwab, Registered Dietitian at Providence, “Multivitamins are often thought of as an ‘insurance policy’ to fill in nutrients that you might not be getting in your diet. Dietitians and other health experts have debated the use of supplements for decades, and the controversy continues. One side argues you should be able to get everything you need from the food you eat, and that putting individual nutrients into a vitamin tablet is not the same as eating foods that have those nutrients. The other side says that despite our best efforts, most of us simply cannot get all that we need from the food we eat. It would require eating too many calories. And, as we get older, we do not absorb nutrients as well, and are more likely to need supplements to maintain health.”

If you’re in the market for supplements, here are some quick tips to consider when selecting your ideal multivitamin:

  • Skip any multivitamin that doesn’t have the key ingredients they claim to have. Always check the label to ensure the ingredients and levels match.
  • Pay attention to the levels of the particular ingredient – sometimes too much of one vitamin can be harmful and not enough could prove ineffective. Schwab adds, “Too much Vitamin C can increase the chances of kidney stones, and not enough folic acid for pregnant mothers could increase the risk of brain and spinal defects.”
  • Avoid any multivitamin that contains synthetic preservatives, hydrogenated oils, talc, lead or artificial dyes or colors. Oils and talc are harmful fillers and some food dyes, such as Red No. 40, has been linked to hyperactivity among children. Schwab adds, “You’ll also want to avoid those with fillers such as sugar and artificial flavoring.”
  • Steer clear of any vitamins containing intolerably high levels of vitamin A, niacin, or zinc. Excessive vitamin A could lead to liver abnormalities and loss of bone density while high levels of niacin and zinc could lead to skin flushing and immune deficiency, respectively.
  • Beware of trends. Schwab explains, “Supplement manufacturers often add whatever is popular at the moment. Right now, probiotics, CoQ10, turmeric and gingko are added for marketing and consumer appeal – not necessarily in forms or amounts based on science.”
  • Most importantly, “Always tell your health care provider what supplements you are taking. Vitamins and minerals can have drug-like effects and can interact with prescription medications,” suggests Schwab.

Now that you know what to avoid, here is a list of basic ingredients that an ideal multivitamin should contain:

  • Vitamin A is necessary to maintain good vision and a healthy immune and reproduction system.
  • Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. It helps with the growth and development of healthy bones and assists in wound healing.
  • Vitamin D helps maintain healthy bones and teeth and protects against cancer, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
  • Vitamin E is necessary for protecting the body from free radicals and maintaining healthy skin and eyes.
  • Magnesium is important for nerve transmission, energy production and bone and cell formation.
  • Zinc is great for boosting the immune system and treating the common cold.
  • Selenium may help prevent coronary heart disease and can also fight inflammation and increase circulation.
  • Chromium helps regulate blood sugar levels and assists the cells in absorbing insulin, resulting in energy.
  • Calcium is necessary for building healthy bones and important for maintaining bodily functions such as blood clotting and muscle contractions.
  • Thiamin (B1) helps convert carbohydrates into glucose, or energy. It also helps the body metabolize fat and protein.
  • Riboflavin (B2), like Thiamin, is necessary for breaking down proteins into amino acids and turning carbs into energy.
  • Niacin (B3) can help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and helps balance cholesterol levels.
  • Folic Acid helps your body produce new cells. Specifically, it’s necessary for sustaining the development of red blood cells.
  • Vitamin B12 keeps your red blood cells healthy and forms the protective covering of nerves.
  • Vitamin B6 is key for maintaining metabolic processes and improving the nervous system.

These are all beneficial vitamins for any one-a-day pill, however, always be sure to check the levels to make sure you’re not getting too much of one thing and not enough of the other. Additionally, Schwab encourages you to “Consider choosing a multivitamin designed for your age, sex and other factors such as pregnancy. Multivitamins for men often contain little or no iron, as their needs are lower than for women. Multivitamins for seniors usually provide more calcium, vitamin D, B12 and less iron than multivitamins for younger adults. Prenatal vitamins are designed for the special needs of women during pregnancy.” Depending on your individual needs, there are options available.

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Dietitians and other health experts have debated the use of multivitamin supplements for decades, and the controversy continues.