Multi vitamins are so common these days you would not even think of them as a supplement. A multi vitamin is defined in the dictionary as "a preparation intended to supplement a human diet with vitamins, minerals and other nutritional elements." The US government categorizes multi vitamin under "food", because it contains 3 or more vitamins or minerals but does not contain herbs, hormones, or drugs.
The multi vitamin can come in many forms such as tablets, capsules, packs, powders, liquids and even injections; however, injections can only be prescribed by a doctor. There are many different combinations and doses of vitamins and minerals and many of them exceeded the 100% recommended daily allowance. Depending on your physical needs, many of the excess vitamins and minerals that can not be digested are harmlessly excreted out of the body. There are a few that will not exceed the RDA such as Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Iron, and many of the trace elements because they are not easily depleted unless under extreme physical stress and could become toxic if too much is retained in the body. Because the body's nutritional requirements will differ depending on your physical requirements and diet, most multi vitamins are formulated for specific groups of people such as men, woman, over the age of 50, prenatal, stress relief and athletic.
Most multi vitamins will include these standard nutrients:
Vitamin A – Vitamin A plays a role in several functions throughout the body such as vision, bone metabolism, skin health, immune function, antioxidant activity and reproduction. It is found in many foods but these particular foods contain large amounts; liver, sweet potato, carrots, broccoli, kale, butter, spinach and leafy vegetables. Deficiencies in Vitamin A can cause impaired vision, particularly in reduced light (night vision), impaired immunity and red bumps on the skin called Keratosis pilaris. Too much Vitamin A can be toxic so do not take more than 5000 UI per day for males and 4000 UI per day for females.
Vitamin C – Vitamin C helps keep your immune system strong and is a powerful antioxidant, helps reduce the risk of heart disease, plays a major role in collagen production and it helps the body recover faster than a hard workout. Vitamin C can be found in many fruits, vegetables and in animal products such as raw cow's milk and liver. Deficiencies in Vitamin C is known to cause Scurvy, liver spots, feelings of depression, their skin looks pale, and are more susceptible to lung borne diseases.
Vitamin D – Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus and is necessary for thyroid function and bone growth. Vitamin D is naturally produced by the body when it's exposed to sunlight though due to the negative effects of UV rays; Many foods such as dairy products, oil, Cereal and bread are now enriched with Vitamin D. You can also find Vitamin D in fatty fishes, eggs, and liver. Deficiencies in Vitamin D in children can cause Rickets, a growth deformity of the bones. In adults deficiencies can cause thinning of the bones (Osteomalacia) and reduced density of the bones (Osteoporosis). Vitamin D deficiencies have also been linked to diseases such as type 1 diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.
Vitamin E – Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant and is important for a healthy immune system. Vitamin E is important for hard training athletes as their immune systems can be worn down and make them susceptible to health issues. Vitamin E can be found in foods such as whole grains, nuts, milk, eggs, asparagus, vegetable oils and avocados. There have been no known symptoms of deficiencies in Vitamin E.
Vitamin K – Vitamin K plays a key role in blood coagulation, bone metabolism, and the circulatory system. Vitamin K is found mainly in green leafy vegetables but can also be found in avocados and kiwifruit. There are usually no symptoms of deficiencies in adults; however, adults that suffer from liver damage, cystic fibrosis, who have recently had abdominal surgery, bulimics and certain drugs may inhibit the absorption of Vitamin K. Symptoms of deficiencies are anemia, bruising and nose bleeding. Vitamin K should be stored in the cupboard as it will lose its potency in sunlight.
B Vitamins – There are 8 distinctive vitamins that fall under B vitamins umbrella and are discussed in detail in my previous article "B Vitamins Play an Essential Role in Metabolism". B Vitamins play a key role in increasing the rate of metabolism, maintaining healthy skin and muscle tone, enhancing immune system and nervous system functions and promoting cell growth. B Vitamins can be found in a variety of foods such as animal products, legumes, yeast, fish, seeds and whole grains. Deficiencies in B Vitamins can cause various symptoms such as weight loss, weakness of the limbs, depression, sensitivity to sunlight, diarrhea, insomnia, acne, water retention, and high blood pressure.
Calcium – Is the most abundant mineral in the human body, 99% of it is contained in the bones and teeth. Calcium plays a role in many biological functions such as muscle contracting and as a neurotransmitter between cells, but Calcium's claim to fame is its role in bone development and sustaining bone density. Calcium can be found in many foods such as dairy products, nuts, sesame seeds, lentils, and eggs. Symptoms of Calcium deficiencies are Osteoporosis and Osteomalacia, thinning of the bones.
Potassium – Potassium is a mineral that can reduce hypertension, heart disease and stroke. Potassium also plays a role in neurotransmission, muscle contraction and heart function. Most fruits, vegetables and meats contain Potassium in low quantities, but orange juice, bananas, kiwi, potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, soybeans, brown rice, and garlic are rich in Potassium. Deficiencies of Potassium are rare but in severe cases of vomiting and diarrhea can lead to symptoms such as muscle weakness and cramps.
Zinc – Zinc is an essential metallic trace element which assists in many functions within the body. It is instrumental in immune response, brain function and plays a role in prostate gland health and reproductive organ growth. Zinc plays a major role in cellular metabolism as over 100 enzymes reliably on zinc to be a catalyst in many chemical reactions. Zinc also helps DNA tell cells what to do such as hormone secretion and nerve impulses; which is important for growth and disease prevention. Zinc is found in red meat in high concentrations but it is also found in whole grains, beans, almonds, and various seeds. Deficiencies in Zinc can cause repressed growth, diarrhea, impotence and weakened immune system.
Magnesium – Magnesium is another metallic trace element that is essential for all cells in a living organism. Over 300 enzymes require Magnesium to be the catalyst in various chemical reactions including synthesis of ATP into energy. Magnesium also facilitates calcium absorption into the body. Magnesium is found in spices, nuts cereals, coffee, cocoa, tea and green leafy vegetables. Modern countries have inadvertently reduced the amount of Magnesium intake due to the food refining process and modern fertilizers; which do not contain Magnesium. Deficiencies in Magnesium do not typically show symptoms, however deficiencies have been associated with the development of certain illnesses such as asthma, osteoporosis and ADHD.
Chromium – Chromium is another metallic trace element that is required for the body's production of insulin. Insulin is a hormone that regulates the body's blood sugar levels. Chromium helps transport blood sugar from the bloodstream into the cells and is critical in the process of turning fats, carbs and proteins into energy. Good sources of Chromium are brewer's yeast, meats, whole grains, nuts and cooking with stainless steel cookware. Symptoms of deficiencies in Chromium are rare; however, in severe cases it can cause weight loss, confusion and insulin resistance.
Manganese – Manganese is another metallic trace element that ensures healthy bones, bone metabolism and helps the body absorb Calcium. It is also involved in, insulin regulation, formation of connective tissues, thyroid regulation, collagen formation, metabolism of fats and carbohydrates and is a powerful antioxidant. Manganese can be found in many foods such as meats, nuts, garlic, green vegetables, brown rice, and raspberries. Deficiencies in Manganese are rare but can occur. Symptoms include bone malformation, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and muscular contraction.
Iron – Iron is another metallic trace element that is essential for life. Iron is essential to the proteins that are involved in oxygen transport and for regulating cell growth and metabolism. Iron can be found in meats, cereal's fortified with iron and cooking with iron cookware. Deficiencies in Iron cause a lack of oxygen to be delivered to the cells and therefore results in fatigue, restless sleep, lack of concentration and decreased immunity. Conversely, too much Iron in the body is very toxic and there is many vitamins state on the bottle either "with Iron" or "without Iron". Iron's RDA for men are 10 mg and for women is 15mg a day, but for athletes, it could be as much as 25 mg a day.
Selenium – Selenium is another metallic trace element that is essential in the activation of glutathione peroxidases, a powerful antioxidant. Selenium is also required for the proper functioning of the thyroid. Selenium can be found in many foods such as nuts, fish, meats, eggs crab and lobster. There are no symptoms of inadequacies of Selenium however when supplemented it seems to have a positive effect on male infertility, cancer cells, and tuberculosis.
How is your diet and what are your physical needs? The majority of Americans do not eat a balanced diet to provide them with all the nutrients to fight off disease, keep bones healthy, protect the skin, cardiovascular health, give us energy and in general to keep us healthy. The proper amount of each nutrient is dependent on your physical needs. Choosing the right multi vitamin can be difficult but here are some things to consider when purchasing a multi vitamin.
Athletes – You will need a multi vitamin with higher overall content as many of them are depleted or excreted out of the body via sweating or urination. These vitamins are especially susceptible to being depleted, B vitamins for energy, potassium for muscle regulation, iron for proper oxygen transport and muscle growth, Vitamin C for proper immune system regulation and calcium for strong bones. If your body's Calcium reserves are depleted your body will "steal" it from your bones and can lead to future skeletal diseases. Many vitamins will contain amino acids for muscle building and recovery and high levels of antioxidants to eliminate the free radicals produced by a strenuous workout.
Adults over 50 – May want to take a multivitamin that is higher in Calcium and vitamin D for bone health and to prevent osteoporosis. B vitamins are important for energy and proper absorption of nutrients from food and as we age, our bodies are less able to absorb them. CoQ10 for heart health and energy and as we get older our production levels decreases. Vitamin K for bone health and its antioxidant properties have been shown to inhibit the development of Alzheimer's disease. Lycopene to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and has been shown to have positive effects on prostate health.
Prenatal – Will have a higher concentration of B9 (Folic Acid) for proper brain, spinal and skull formation in fetuses, calcium for proper bone formation and iron for the proper development of red blood cells. It will also have a reduced level of Vitamin A as it can cause health defects in fetuses.
Women – Need to have a multi vitamin higher in calcium for strong bones, as women usually do not get enough from their diet alone. Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid) for overall health, preventing genetic diseases, and may also prevent cancer and heart disease. Women also need more Iron as women do not eat much meat and they lose a lot of iron every month through menstruation.
Men – Need Boron for prostate health, calcium for healthy bones, chromium to regulate blood sugar levels, Folic Acid for regulating blood flow and reducing the risk of Alzheimer's disease, glucosamine for joint health, and the omegas to reduce blood pressure and for heart health .
Stress Relief – Will be loaded with B vitamins as they produce anti stress hormones and vitamin C to prevent stress related illness.
Conclusion Most multi vitamins should be taken in the morning with a meal as some of the nutrients may cause an upset stomach. Multi vitamins are fairly inexpensive unless they contain high levels of expensive nutrients such as Biotin ($ 4,000 per active pound!) Or contain other nutrients that are condition specific such as bodybuilding. Multi vitamins are worth the price and it the single most important supplement you can take to stay healthy. Think of multi vitamins as insurance for your body. You may not feel much of a difference right away but over time, when you are healthy, you will be glad that you took them.