Note: Each week, family physician Regina Chinsio-Kwong, DO from Mission Heritage Medical Group in Laguna Niguel will offer insight on a different vitamin—why you need it, how to incorporate it into your diet and how it affects your health. If you are considering taking any kind of supplement, consult with a medical professional first.
WHAT IT DOES: A multivitamin offers the recommended daily allowance of many vitamins and minerals in a handy pill form—it's a way to ensure you're getting the nutrients your body needs, especially if your diet isn't optimal. There are multivitamins that are meant to be taken daily for general health maintenance, as well as other types specially formulated to address specific concerns, such as improved immunity, weight loss and prenatal care. More than a third of all Americans take a multivitamin supplement, according to the National Institutes of Health.
RECOMMENDED DAILY ALLOWANCE: All vitamins and minerals have their own guidelines for daily intake; check supplement labels to see how much of the recommended allowance it supplies for each of its vitamin and mineral components. Generally, you don't want to get a multivitamin that goes above the recommended limits; you are also getting vitamins and minerals from the food you eat and that counts toward the daily total, too. In some cases, such as with vitamin E and folic acid, an overabundance can result in other health issues. Most labels should have UL numbers listed on it—that stands for upper limit, or the highest amount of a nutrient a person can have before it causes potential problems.
HOW TO INCLUDE IT IN YOUR DIET: How you incorporate multivitamins into your diet depends on the supplement and physician guidelines. Some pills are meant to be taken with food, while others are more effective on an empty stomach. There are also different schools of thought on the best time to take the multivitamin, at morning or at night. It's important to consult with a doctor and follow the supplement instructions.
HEALTH IMPACT: Because there are so many formulations of multivitamins, it's been difficult for research to conclusively determine how beneficial they are. For instance, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an advisory group, says evidence is insufficient about whether multivitamins can prevent cancer or cardiovascular disease.
While most people are encouraged to get their daily intake of vitamins and minerals through food, a multivitamin may be recommended for women who are trying to conceive, pregnant or breastfeeding; women who are postmenopausal; people older than 50; people who have dietary restrictions, such as vegans; and patients with certain medical conditions. It can be best to avoid multivitamins with extras such as herbs, which can affect your body's health or interfere with medication.
There is a chance that someone can get too much of a particular vitamin or mineral, such as vitamin A or iron, if they take other types of vitamins as well as a multivitamin. Also, multivitamins can have nutrients that may affect absorption and action of certain medications. Multivitamins should be used with caution in patients who are taking blood-clotting medications or for those who have kidney disease. In general, it is best to get most of your vitamin and mineral requirements through a well-balanced, vegetable-rich diet and to take multivitamins under the supervision of your health care provider.
RECOMMENDED SUPPLEMENT BRANDS: Major Brands: Nature Made, Kirkland, GNC, Flintstones, Nature's Way, Garden of Life
Read the rest of the Value of Vitamin Series about melatonin,
vitamin D3 and