The Lowdown on Multivitamins

Posted: January 5, 2012 in Supplements
Tags: , , , , , , ,

As promised, the multivitamin discussion from Part 2 of the Supplement Guide needs more expansion.  Since this is a dietary supplement that has mass appeal across the public, I wanted to address this first.  We waste a lot of money, as a public, on multivitamin supplements.  Are they useless? Maybe not.

First thing is first – there is a lot of research out there and you’ve probably read news articles citing some study that says that multivitamins are bad.  There are a variety of problems with some of the research.  For instance, there have been several done on terminally ill people.  I don’t think any of us believe that multivitamins will reverse heart disease or cure already existing cancers.  Moreover, in other studies, researchers have not put testers under any kind of lifestyle constraints.  I think readers would also agree that multivitamins aren’t going to fix unhealthy lifestyles.  An even larger scale problem with multivitamin research is the multivitamins used themselves.  In reading, I usually see that vitamins/minerals used are not nearly as comprehensive as almost any available multivitamin.  An even larger issue is one that even fitness and supplementation veterans don’t know of – there are different forms of each vitamin/mineral, and for this reason, not all multivitamins are created equal.  Dirt cheap, Centrum-esque multivitamins that are using the most inexpensive sources available to spruce up the label are almost without fail what is used in multivitamin studies.

So should you take them or not?  The first suggestion is always to eat a well-balanced diet, rich in fruits and vegetables.  This is always a good start, but not fool-proof and some of us don’t have the resources to buy the best quality foods either.  All in all, it’s likely a good diet will save you from deficiencies.  However, we don’t live our lives merely avoiding deficiency, do we?  You wouldn’t be reading a fitness blog if you just wanted to “get by.”  This is a big part of the flaw in the DV (daily value) that is displayed on nutrition labels these days.  I will quote the Linus Pauling Institute’s statement on the DV:

Similar to food labels, the DVs listed on supplement labels do not reflect the latest recommendations (i.e., the RDA and AI) from the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) of the U.S. Institute of Medicine; instead, most of the DVs are based on outdated recommendations made in 1968 (2). The DVs for vitamin A and biotin are considerably higher than the current FNB recommendations, but supplement manufacturers may include these vitamins at levels similar to the current recommendation and list that a tablet contains only a fraction of the DV. DVs of many micronutrients are significantly higher than the corresponding RDAs

If you look at some of their charts, there is a lot of conflict as to what the lower amounts is.  Also, you don’t absorb/use the exact amount that you ingest, either.  The main moral of the story is that you need not really pay attention to those percentages on the label.  Multivitamins could possibly be insurance to not just keep you above deficiency level, but well into sufficiency. They are considered safe, but as I discussed in my Supplement Guide, there isn’t conclusive evidence in favor of multivitamin use.  I also have told you that the most commonly tested multivitamins are either incomplete or use ineffective forms.

Let’s talk some more about vitamin and mineral forms.  It may not have occurred to you that there is more than one substance that will yield each vitamin and mineral.  Most multivitamins will list the vitamin, then in parentheses, the form.  If it doesn’t tell you the forms, don’t buy it!  If your multi was using good forms, it would want to effectively brag about it by listing them.  I’ll first talk about Vitamin B12 because it is one of the most expensive components of a multivitamin.  There are several different compounds that show up as Vitamin B12.  The most common is called cyanocobalamin.  Cyanocobalamin is the cheapest form of B12 available and breaks down into the co-enzyme form, methylcobalamin, in the body.   The reason this is an issue is because it is rather inefficient, not to mention the fact that it breaks down into cyanide (not enough to truly matter, though).  Better forms of vitamins and minerals are important because cheap forms generally are going to be so inefficient that it ends up being useless.  Methycobalamin is the form that you’ll look for in a better multivitamin because it is generally the most expensive component – chances are that if your multi won’t shell out for methylcobalamin, it won’t have other good forms of vitamins.

In lieu of describing the differences in each and every vitamin form, I thought I’d make a list of superior forms for you to look for when evaluating a multivitamin supplement.  You can look for more description at the Linus Pauling Institute Website.  Not every vitamin and mineral has a variety of forms, so if you don’t see one listed, that’s why.

Vitamin A: retinol is best, beta-carotene is good
Vitamin B1: Benfotiamine
Vitamin B2/Riboflavin: Riboflavin 5′-Phosphate
Vitamin B3/Niacin: Inositol Hexanicotinate
Vitamin B5: Pantethine
Vitamin B6: pyridoxal 5′-phosphate
Vitamin B12: methylcobalamin or adenosylocobalamin
Vitamin C: ascorbic acid, rose hips, magnesium ascorbate
Vitamin E: Mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols or NATURAL Alpha-Tocopherol (sometimes labeled as RRR-alpha tocopherol or d-alpha-tocopherol)
Vitamin K: menatetrenone (MK-4)
Magnesium: Magnesium bis-glycinate or magnesium malate
Calcium: Calcium citrate or calcium malate
Other minerals?  Look for the words chelate or malate at the end, in general.  It’s difficult to make an all encompassing list.

There will be good multivitamins that don’t have EVERY one of those forms, and if you would rather just get a suggestion from me, I will be doing just that now.   If you don’t see any on your current multi, though, then you should probably steer clear.  Given the price of raw ingredients, if you’re buying a 6 month supply for $10 or something equally ridiculous, then the forms can’t be any good (or the company isn’t interested in making money, and I doubt that).

A quick note on tablets vs capsules.  It seems that capsules are the preferred form due to ease of delivery.  It is, of course, more difficult to pack as many substances into a capsule so generally it takes more capsules to get the same amount of “stuff.”  Many tablets are okay, but some tablets use a glue that cause the tablet to never get broken down in the digestive tract.  These will generally be larger than their capsule counterparts, if you have difficulty swallowing.  The last thing to know before we venture into the world of good multivitamins, be advised that you will not see any one-a-day multis.  This is because a well-dosed and well-sourced multivitamin simply cannot fit into a single tablet or capsule that can be swallowed.

On to some recommendations, starting with the best (and highest priced).

AOR Orthocore is considered by most to be the Rolls-Royce of multivitamin/multimineral supplements – and the price tag reflects that.  If you have the resources, this is the one to get.

The next highly priced multi I’ve found is the Daily Energy Multiple Vitamin.  I’m honestly astonished at the forms in this multi – it’s really excellent.

Here is THE best multivitamin on a budget.  It’s such an excellent mixture of good forms and price that I wonder how much money is even made on it.  If you’re a man or post-menopausal woman, get the iron-free variety.  Source Naturals Life Force

Controlled Labs Orange Triad is another great choice for those that don’t want to break the bank for a good multivitamin.  Despite the appearance of the labels, I can vouch for the respectability of the brand.  The unique part of this multivitamin is that fully dosed joint, digestive, and immune complexes are included.  One should remember that joint supplements have made my “Supplements That Work” list.

Gaspari Nutrition Anavite is another nice multivitamin that is really defined by its extras.  The forms are very solid, but it also includes Beta-Alanine and LCLT.  Beta-alanine is on my “Supplements That Work” list and I consider LCLT to be a very promising “maybe.”  These are both fully dosed.  This is a little bit more expensive than my other two money-saving options, but if you planned to supplement beta-alanine or LCLT anyway, this will really help with convenience.  Make sure you take 6 tabs (2 servings) per day for full beta-alanine/LCLT dosing.  Sweet looking label too.

SAN Dr. Feel Good is new to the market but is getting rave reviews for its extras as well – a mood/focus enhancing nootropic complex.  It is just a tick below the others in terms of vitamin and mineral forms, but the mind complex may be intriguing to you.  I will warn that it is less price competitive than the past few recommendations, so that is up to you to consider.  This would fall under the category of a multivitamin you should “feel.”

Do I use a multivitamin? Well, I’ve gone through some.  I’ve used several bottles of Orange Triad, which is a favorite because of the joint support.  I’ve discontinued use because Life Force is a bit cheaper and I’m dubious about whether I need the joint support – I’m still pretty young and don’t have any joint problems to speak of.  If I start getting an aching knee, though, I’ll be eating my words!  I also ran through a tub of Anavite, and did enjoy the convenience of the beta-alanine.  I now use the tub as a pencil holder.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of effective multis, but this should be a nice start if you don’t want to risk trying to evaluate by yourself.  If you’re looking for the cheapest possible, Life Force is it.  Other, cheaper multi’s are (all the ones I’ve ever seen) all too poorly formulated to be worth taking.  A well balanced diet far exceeds what a poor multivitamin can do.  A poor diet and a poor multivitamin is still without merit.  Do the best with your diet, and get the best multivitamin you can afford, if you want one.

Links for further research:



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s