Some experts believe that a daily multivitamin helps promote optimum health and weight control, while others believe that it has no medical value and may even do you harm. With such conflicting views, it is no wonder why most of us are left wondering whether to take a multivitamin (“multi”) each day or not?
Those in favour of taking a multi report increased metabolism (energy), stress reduction, enhanced immune function, improved cardiovascular health, decreased risk of osteoporosis, improved eye health, increased brain function and increased fat-loss. While in contrast, those that discourage the taking of multi’s believe that the body cannot fully utilize synthetic nutrients, and in excess, these can cause a biological burden, leading to poor health. Interestingly, both of these conclusions are supported by research.
Personally, I don’t rely on nutrient supplements for good health. Our bodies are designed to receive nutrients from natural food sources and no pill can fully replicate that. Therefore, our primary aim should be to achieve the nutrients we require from our diet. However, with the general decrease in vegetable consumption (and soil nutrition) and the increase in processed food consumption, the research tells us that most of us simply do not achieve the required daily intakes of many essential nutrients. For this reason, I focus on a healthy diet and take a ‘good quality’ multi to fill any potential nutritional gaps.
So, once you have decided whether to take a multi or not, the important question then becomes “what is the difference between a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ quality multi?”
Ironically, most people take vitamins and minerals because they want to be healthier, and yet, so many people choose cheap products with inferior ingredients. These vitamins are the equivalent of mass-produced unhealthy processed foods, filled with synthetic ingredients, sweeteners, fillers and preservatives. In addition, these supplements often have limited nutrient diversity and contain low nutrient dosages in poorly absorbable forms. The stark reality is that around 75% of the supplements available on the market, are considered to be of ‘poor’ quality. In contrast, a ‘good’ quality supplement will contain the recommended daily doses of bioavailable nutrients with limited additions. In my strong opinion, although these supplements will be more expensive, these factors make them worth the extra cost.
To find a ‘good’ quality supplement, you need to become a detective. Investigate the manufacturer, the nutritional panel and list of ingredients to ensure your choice aligns with the following factors:
Price: Many low-priced multi’s don’t contain the nutrient dosage listed on the label and use poorly absorbable forms. In contrast, higher priced products from reputable companies tend to be a more reliable option.
Origin: The manufacturing regulations in the EU and other developed countries are significantly more stringent. Therefore, choose products from these countries, as the risk of them being of poor quality is much smaller.
Capsules: Capsule-based supplements are the best for overall absorption. Liquid forms lose their potency at a greater rate and tablets are harder to absorb.
Dosage: Multivitamin and mineral supplements should contain 100% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for most vitamins and minerals. In particular, B vitamins are an important part of the synergy of the multi-vitamin and low levels of these are a real red flag.
Methylation: Always buy methylated B vitamins. Methylation is the process that enables B vitamins to be utilised in the body. Often, cheap supplements contain B vitamins in their non-methylated forms, such as folic acid/folate (Vitamin B9) and cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12). Specific enzymes are required to convert these vitamins into their active (methylated) forms, and 30% of the population do not possess these. Therefore, not only are these supplements inefficient for many people, but more worryingly, the unprocessed vitamins can build up in the blood, causing harm to the body. In contrast, supplements that contain methylated B vitamins, such as methylfolate (B9) and methylcobalamin (B12), do not require the enzyme conversion and are therefore much more effectively utilized and eliminated from the body.
Vitamin Forms: Make sure other vitamins are in bioavailable forms. For example, d-alpha tocopherol is a more bioavailable form of vitamin E than dl-alpha tocopherol and cholecalciferol (D3) is more bioavailable than ergocalciferol (D2).
Chelation: Chelation involves combining a nutrient with another molecule to stabilise the compound and improve the absorption and unitization of the nutrient. Nutrients chelated to amino acids, such as glycinate, lysinate, orotate, taurate etc, are usually the most effective. However, citrate forms are cheaper and are also adequately absorbed. In contrast, if you find the word "oxide" anywhere in the ingredients list, stay clear of the product. Not only are these nutrient forms difficult to absorb, but oxides use up valuable antioxidants to deactivate them.
Additives: Supplements should never contain unnecessary additives or preservatives, such as: yellow No. 6 aluminium lake (food colouring), hydrogenated palm oil (trans-fats), talc (anti-caking agent) or sucrose.
Once you have chosen your multi successfully, you can then increase the absorption of the nutrients by considering these facts:
Your Digestive System: Probably the most important factor for nutrient absorption is the condition of your small and large intestine. A diet high in fruit, vegetables, whole-grains, nuts, seeds and pulses helps to keep your intestines clean, as does taking probiotics. However, fibre is also an anti-nutrient, which means it stops the absorption of certain nutrients, so avoid taking your supplement with a high fibre meal.
Stomach Acid: Hydrochloric acid in your stomach is vital for the absorption of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc, and to a lesser extent manganese, selenium and chromium. Therefore, eat well to ensure your digestion system produces the optimal level, and if you can, avoid taking antacids.
Alcohol: Alcohol is probably the strongest anti-nutrient and affects the absorption of B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, selenium and essential fatty acids. There is little point in taking your vitamins with a glass of wine.
Tea & Coffee: Caffeine inhibits mineral absorption. In fact, the amount of iron absorbed is reduced to ⅓ if coffee is drunk with a meal.
Smoking: Smoking interferes with gastric acid secretion and therefore mineral absorption. It is best not to smoke for at least 30 minutes either side of a major meal or when taking supplements.
Stress: Stress also has a negative impact on digestion. You will absorb more nutrients during a peaceful meal that is chewed properly, than with a meal that is gulped down in five minutes while sitting at your desk.
Occasionally, multivitamins may cause an upset stomach, nausea or leave an unpleasant taste in your mouth. If this happens, make sure that you take your multi with food rather than on an empty stomach, change the time of day you take them and avoid excessive doses. In addition, supplements high in B2 will turn your urine fluorescent yellow. This neon colour is a harmless sign that you're taking enough to fulfil your metabolic needs.
In summary, supplements should never take the place of a balanced healthy diet, but a ‘good’ quality multi can help to fill nutritional gaps. However, it is extremely important that you choose wisely. If you do not wish to pay for a ‘good’ quality product, then it’s probably healthier not to take one at all.
BSc (Hons) Nutritional Therapy, memBANT, memNT, memCNCH
For more information on health and weight loss see ‘The Meta-Keto Diet’. This book is available as an eBook (£6.99), or in paperback (£15.99), via the Secret Healthy Eater Shop; www.secrethealthyeater.com/shop.
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