A multivitamin provides all or most vitamins and minerals to supplement the amount people obtain from their diet. Multivitamins usually include other non-necessary nutrients such as antioxidants and herbs, and usually lack other necessary nutrients such as omega 3 fatty acids and essential amino acids. A multivitamin cannot take the place of a healthy diet, in fact, even the healthiest diets don't provide optimal amounts of all necessary nutrients on a day-to-day basis. Additionally, other factors like stress, pollution, and the limited food choices suitable for a fast-paced lifestyle make a multivitamin important for everyone; even the American Medical Association recommends a daily multivitamin for all adults.
Multivitamins may be even more important for certain people such as vegetarians, those using certain medications, and in the case of some illnesses.
Multivitamin supplements are available in several formats: tablets, capsules, powders, liquids and chewables.
- Tablets are the most economical type of multi and are best for most people. Modern tablet manufacturing techniques permit large amounts of nutrients to be included in a single tablet, and special ingredients are used to ensure complete disintegration within the body.
- Capsules are easier to swallow than tablets for many people. Capsules are more expensive than tablets, however, and have a smaller capacity, so more are required to deliver the same amount of a nutrient.
- Powders are mixed into liquids or shakes, and are available in flavored and unflavored versions. They are economical to use but should be used up once opened as vitamins in powdered form are less stable than capsule or tablet products
- Liquids are the most expensive to use but the easiest for some people to take. Though it is claimed they absorb faster than tablets or capsules, that is not necessarily the case -many factors influence absorption, and faster absorption may not even be an advantage where multis are concerned. In fact, some experts feel that capsules and tablets are preferable precisely because they release nutrients more slowly.
- Chewables are available for children and adults. Due to the strong taste of vitamins, they are low-potency compared with other forms.
There are also specialized multivitamins for women, men, people 50+ years of age, children, and pregnant women.
- Women: These tend to have more calcium than regular multis and most have at least 400mcg of folic acid. Some Women's Multis are available in iron (typically used during childbearing years only) or iron-free versions. Ask your doctor if you're not sure which one is for you.
- Men: Most Men's Multis are iron-free, since excess iron has been linked to heart disease.
- 50+ Years of Age: Most are iron-free and have extra calcium (1200 mg/daily), vitamin D (400-600 IU; 10-15 mcg), and B-complex vitamins.
- Children: Children's Multis are low-potency regardless of format. They tend to have only the essential vitamins and minerals with fewer additional nutrients than adult formulas.
- Pregnant Women: Prenatal vitamins aren't very different than Women's Multis. They sometimes have extra folic acid, iron, calcium and other ingredients to help soothe the stomach.
- Vegetarians/Vegans: Many multivitamins are available in vegetarian versions, perfect for filling some of the nutritional gaps that can arise with vegetarian diets such as insufficient B12.
It's very important to take multivitamins with solid food, ideally, in divided doses spread out over the course of the day. If that's not practical, take the full dose with the largest solid-food meal of the day. The time-of-day at which you take a multi – a.m., p.m., or evening - is not important and has no bearing on the benefits you'll receive.
It's also important to note that multivitamins can't supply all of the essential nutrients. Critical nutrients like omega 3 fatty acids and essential amino acids are either absent in multis or only present in small amounts. So use a fish oil or flax oil supplement along with your multi to cover this important base. To make sure you get your essential amino acids whey protein shakes would be another great addition as it's the highest-quality, easiest-digesting of all the complete protein sources.
Side-effects and Cautions:
Multis are very safe when used as directed. Nausea can occur when any multivitamin is taken with insufficient amounts of solid food.