According to a report from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “No U.S. state is meeting national objectives for consumption of fruits and vegetables.”[i]
Another government-funded study concluded that over 80 percent of adults fail to meet daily produce recommendations meant to guide us toward vitamin and mineral adequacy. [ii]
In addition, a study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that “Nearly the entire US population consumes a diet that is not on par with the recommendations.”[iii]
It seems there’s a consistent conclusion you can draw about the nutrient density of most U.S. adults’ diets; the majority of us are failing at nutrition.
And that’s not a very good situation to be in.
Based on the above research conclusions, one would assume that recommending multivitamins to our undernourished populations would be a high priority for most health experts.
However, there are enough well-publicized studies that question the need for multivitamins in the general population.[iv],[v] Also, these studies failed to show that multivitamins can prevent heart attacks or cancer, which are complex, multi-factorial diseases.
Unfortunately, what doesn’t make the headlines is that these large studies are also riddled with serious limitations: low compliance, inconsistent quality and dosages of the multivitamins taken, and sky-high dropout rates — to name a few. So, you could argue that these studies fail to determine if there are other benefits to taking multivitamins.
Although the media often suggests that supplements are a dirty, uncontrolled, corrupt industry that wastes our money and threatens our health, this simply isn’t the case.
The FDA does have regulatory authority over supplement manufacturers and products.[vi] Plus, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has authority over how dietary supplements are marketed.
Compared to prescription drugs, dietary supplements appear to be quite safe.
Adverse reactions from prescription drugs (that are properly prescribed and properly administered) cause about 106,000 deaths per year according to one report in The Journal of the American Medical Association. While annual reports from the last several years compiled by the American Association of Poison Control Centers don’t even list the broad category “vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, and other supplements” in the top 25 categories associated with fatalities.
When you consider all the factors, the potential benefits of taking multivitamins far outweigh the risks for the general population.
As one group of researchers investigating multivitamin use concluded, “[there’s] moderate to strong evidence to suggest a multivitamin should be considered to improve micronutrient status, enhance cognition, memory, anxiety, stress or depression.”[vii]
So, if you’re like most adults these days, you should probably take your vitamins — even if you try to eat better than the average person.
YOU NEED NUTRIENTS, NOT JUST CALORIES.
As our metabolism churns along burning calories, or as we try our very best to exercise away those last few bites of dessert, we have vitamins and minerals to thank for making it all possible.
Vitamins and minerals are the metabolic co-factors and co-enzymes that make human metabolism possible. Without them, normal biological function becomes impossible.[viii]
Without adequate vitamin and mineral status, our metabolic health (and overall health) can start to suffer in several different ways.
“Inadequate micronutrient intake, sometimes at borderline levels of deficiency, has been linked to stunted growth and neurocognitive deficits, as well as increased risks of various symptoms and [health] conditions. Most nutrients act in all tissues, and all tissues need all nutrients; therefore, inadequate intakes may adversely affect every body system.”[ix]
In other words, being undernourished may negatively impact every system in your body.
A few studies have explored what happens to our metabolic health when we get in a more consistent nutrient intake by supplementing with multivitamins. And a whole lot of things get better, metabolically speaking.
Getting adequate micronutrients appears to support whole-body energy metabolism, blood flow, resting energy expenditure, fat metabolism, and might even be enough to promote weight loss, fat loss, more normal glucose sensitivity, and improved cholesterol profiles.[x],[vi]
Do you exercise, or are you trying to restrict calories to lose weight? Do you live a demanding lifestyle, or lack nutrient density in your diet (hint, most person do)? Or do you drink alcohol regularly or take certain medications? If you answered yes to any of the above, you’re at risk for a number of nutrient insufficiencies or deficiencies.
Active individuals burn more energy and inflict more metabolic and mechanical stress on their bodies, so they have considerably higher calorie and micronutrient needs,[xii] which means if you exercise, you need more nutrition. Period.
In other words, if you fall into the categories above, the Recommended Dietary Allowances don’t apply to you. You need to fill in nutrient gaps with supplements.
A nice place to start is a multivitamin. It’s possibly the easiest dietary upgrade to make for the most potential benefit. Even if you don’t “feel” it immediately, the benefits can be so subtle, that you won’t notice the difference until you stop taking the multivitamin for a week or so.
DON’T JUST TAKE A MULTI. TAKE A GOOD MULTI.
Many medical professionals and researchers are quick to lump all supplements into one giant category, which is misleading. Just as with any consumer good or consumable, there’s actually a wide range of quality when it comes to dietary supplements.
It just so happens that most supplements, especially multivitamins, are on the low-quality end of the spectrum. Very low quality. So low that most person are probably wasting money on their supplements. Here are the criteria that you should consider when looking for a quality multivitamin:
CHOOSE A MULTI FOR ACTIVE person + AM/PM NEEDS.
As mentioned above, the Recommended Dietary Allowances are inadequate for most active adults. The established RDAs are meant to establish nutrient requirements that are adequate for most person to avoid deficiency. Avoiding deficiency (e.g., the bare minimum) and getting adequate levels to promote optimal health are quite different amounts for many nutrients.
This means that if you’re interested in nourishing your body to reach its peak performance potential, you should look for a multivitamin that supplies more than just the RDA for certain vitamins and minerals, especially if you haven’t always been as careful as you may be now about the quality of your food choices.
Since the body isn’t capable of getting all the nutrients it needs in one dose per day, it helps considerably if your multivitamin choice is split into multiple doses per day. Ideally, the formulas for each dose should be designed to deliver nutrients your body needs during that specific timeframe. This means your morning dose should support daytime energy production with higher doses of B vitamins and your evening dose should help promote restful, restorative sleep with relaxing minerals like magnesium.
CHOOSE A MULTI THE BODY CAN EASILY ABSORB + UTILIZE.
Think about this; would you buy cheap, ineffective brakes made out of the wrong materials for your car? I didn’t think so.
Why would you bargain shop for a supplement you’re going to put in your body that contains synthetic ingredient forms your body can’t readily absorb and utilize?
The majority of multivitamins sold today — including the “high-end” formulas promoted by all the major multilevel marketing supplement juggernauts — use synthetic vitamin forms and non-chelated (pronounced: key-lated) mineral forms that our bodies cannot easily absorb or readily utilize in our metabolism.
One of the easiest ways to spot an inferior formula is to check the form of vitamin B9, or folate, used. The synthetic form, folic acid, is virtually worthless and potentially harmful to many person who genetically lack the ability to convert synthetic folic acid into the metabolically active methyl-folate form (often listed as “5-methyl-tetrahydrofolic acid glucosamine salt”).
This particular issue is rather concerning since synthetic folic acid is also used in our food supply to fortify cereals, grains and formulas — and un-metabolized folic acid can build up in our system and interfere with normal folate metabolism for years.[xiii]
Another easy way to avoid cheap ingredient forms is to look for “chelated” minerals. Like methylated folate and methylated B-vitamins, chelated minerals are more readily absorbed and utilized by our bodies.[xiv] Chelated minerals also cost considerably more, but that’s beside the point if your first concern is choosing an effective formula.
Check your vitamin cabinet with these simple ingredient screening steps, and I’ll bet you’ll be surprised to find that you’ve been pinching pennies in the wrong areas of your health regimen.
USE A FORMULA THAT’S EASILY DIGESTIBLE.
Aside from being formulated with cheap, ineffective ingredients, most daily tablet multivitamins and gummy vitamins further interfere with how effectively the formula can support your health.
The explosive popularity of adult gummy vitamins is perhaps one of the most brilliant (and disturbing) money-making schemes the dietary supplements industry has hatched in decades. Gummies are fun and brightly colored, and they made it “trendy” to take your vitamins again. However, gummies are notorious for being limited to very low-potency formulas (e.g., fewer nutrients per dose), and also use unnecessary added sugars, artificial colors and synthetic flavorings. Plus, the gelatin used to form the gummy is very difficult to digest.
All of these factors mean that person are paying more money for gummies, buying them more frequently (because they take them more consistently than other forms) and are getting fewer usable nutrients. If you were to formulate a gummy vitamin capable of supporting the nutrient needs of an active adult, it would be about the size of a tennis ball, maybe bigger.
Compressed tablets are the most popular multivitamin delivery form, and have been around for several decades. They’re easy to produce, easy to take, and easy to make money on. Manufacturers press together cheap, synthetic vitamins and inorganic minerals with the help of binders, fillers, glues and coatings.
Next to gummies, hard-pressed tablet vitamins look like the easy alternative to save a few more dollars each month on maintaining health — if you have an iron stomach. Multivitamin tablets are known for being very slow to break down in the digestive tract (if they break down at all).
While compressed tablets seem to be a cheap, convenient way to supplement with a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals, they just aren’t the most effective or well-tolerated way to get more adequate nutrients in your day.
The most stable and most easily digested delivery form is capsules. They look similar to tablets, but capsules are made of an airtight shell that delivers the formula to our system as loose, powdered nutrients. They don’t require heat or pressure to be made, so the nutrients in the formula aren’t subjected to any harsh conditions.
Capsules made from vegetable-based cellulose (hypromellose) are very well tolerated and break down in our gastrointestinal tract in a matter of minutes to allow nutrient dispersion and absorption.
One downside is that loose powder in a capsule takes up more space than a hard-pressed tablet, so it may require more “pills” per day. However, when we’re talking about delivering a multivitamin formula made to support the higher nutrient needs of active person, that’s not a disadvantage. Active person would need multiple “pills” anyway.
Liquid multivitamins are also available from a few manufacturers, and while they sound convenient, they are also more costly and less stable than capsule formulas. Many nutrients degrade when exposed to moisture and/or oxygen, which means liquid formulas quickly lose their potency once you open the bottle.
TESTED FOR PURITY, POTENCY + CONSISTENCY.
This almost goes without saying, but you want to choose supplements you can trust. In this day and age, that’s getting more difficult. So many person shop around for the best deal and buy supplements from online retailers, not knowing that there are dozens of reports of fraudulent online sellers masquerading as real companies. They’re more interested in finding a bargain than finding an effective, high-quality formula.
The lack of trust in the dietary supplement industry is why Life Time set off to create its own products nearly 20 years ago. It’s the only way to have tight control of every aspect of ingredient selection, testing, formulation, production and finished goods testing.
There are companies that care about the purity, potency and consistency of their products, and Life Time invests a nice deal of energy in doing just that. With our manufacturing partners, we carefully evaluate each raw ingredient supplier, test and verify every batch of ingredients, closely monitor the production process, and verify our finished goods meet the specifications of our labels.
We will not compromise on quality controls when not only is our customers’ health on the line, but also ours.
DON’T JUST SPEND MONEY. INVEST IN YOUR HEALTH.
If a supplement is cheap, it’s probably garbage. If a supplement company has a lot of attractive marketing, it’s safe to assume they’re investing in customer acquisition rather than high-quality ingredients in effective doses in the right delivery forms.
Look for multivitamin formulas designed for active, demanding lifestyles. Choose one with the right forms of vitamins and minerals. Invest in one you’ll actually be able to digest, absorb and utilize (capsules). If you have questions about where to start, connect with one of our fitness professionals to discuss how supplements fit into your health and fitness routine.
In health, Paul Kriegler, Registered Dietitian and Life Time Nutrition Program Development Manager.
This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.